Fort Riley, Kansas

 

News

Water, air, more: Compliance protects Fort Riley’s environment

By Season Osterfeld | 1ST INF. DIV. POST | November 10, 2017

       Editor’s Note: This story is part two of a four-part series on the Directorate of Public Works – Environmental Division.

 

     Everyday supplies and chemicals that if not handled properly can be hazardous to the environment are used at Fort Riley. Within the Directorate of Public Works – Environmental Division is the Compliance Branch, which is a team of people skilled in overseeing the proper handling and disposal of hazardous items, protecting the environment and educating people of the installation through inspections, training and regulation enforcement.

     For compliance personnel to work effectively, they’re divided into multiple programs including hazardous waste, water, air tanks, recycling, solid waste and more. Each inspector must also understand the different programs to conduct their inspections properly, said Linda Ward, lead Compliance Inspector for DPW - Environmental.

     “Each one of those has program managers and then as far as the compliance section, the inspection component of that, we’ve got our master over here and then we get to be the jack of all trades, so when we go out to do our inspections, we’re inspecting all of these program areas,” she said.

 

THE START

      The Compliance Branch all began with the implementation of the Clean Water Act in 1978, said Shawn LaBonte, Hazardous Waste Program manager for DPW – Environmental. The first job the branch received was to clean and protect water resources across the installation.

     “That’s how all these environmental programs started — with the Clean Water Act,” he said. “More or less, it’s to keep the chemicals out of the water, keep people from dumping things on the ground, spills.”

      Since then, the branch has grown to encompass all environmental areas, whether land, air or water.

    With the expansions, oversight from state and federal organizations is mandatory. Regulating organizations for the branch include the Environmental Protection Agency, the state of Kansas and the Army.

     This combination of regulating organizations pose some challenges for the personnel within the branch, but they make it work and ensure each requirement is followed in its entirety, LaBonte said.

      “Many folks feel the military is exempt from those regulations and we are not,” he said. “We actually have more because we have federal and state, and then we have Army regulations we have to comply with, which are typically more stringent.”

 

WATER

     With water conservation being the original driving force behind the branch’s creation, Compliance still puts a heavy emphasis on sampling, cleaning and protecting water today, said Steve Stanislow, Water Program manager for DPW – Environmental.

     In any given year, Stanislow and his team will collect between 700 to 1,300 water samples from creeks, storm drains, ground water, rivers, ponds, buildings and more. These samples are analyzed to determine the amount of metals, contaminates and so forth that may be lurking within them.

     “In any given year, we can do 700 upwards to 1,300 samples to comply with all these regulations,” he said. “That’s for drinking water, waste water and storm water.”

     In a single month, they will visit at least 44 homes, businesses and other facilities to collect a water sample. Within the homes, they enlist the assistance of the resident to gather the sample and use it as a learning opportunity as those who live there often have questions about where their water comes from, the quality of it and more, Stanislow said. These questions are something they enjoy answering because education and understanding are required to help protect and conserve water and other resources.

     “Every month we have to do samples in the houses and we knock on the door, explain who we are and why we’re there and we do our sample collection and in the process — there’s always questions,” he said. “It’s always an education process. Whatever we’re doing, we’re educating the Soldiers.”

      When contamination is found, it’s handled immediately, Ward said, through a team effort of combined multiple branches and divisions of DPW. In one extreme case, they discovered a spill that occurred over a weekend and water pouring into a creek, so the team set into action.

     “We had a big spill … over 2,000 gallons into a storm drain through a creek that we damned off,” she said. “Our folks, Public Works – Roads and Grounds, we had our (DPW) conservation guys because it was thick trees and ticks in the middle of summer, they were clearing paths. We had all these parts and pieces come together. We managed to get it damned up, get it stopped and get it cleaned up.”

      In a short amount of time, the cleanup was a success. When Stanislow returned only a few days after the cleanup, he said he found no trace of the original contamination.

     “This huge wheel was turning and every little cog and spring did what they were supposed to,” Ward said of the team effort to protect the water and soil.

 

INSPECTIONS

      Every week the compliance team sets out to conduct inspections on various areas where chemicals, whether oil, cleaners, paint or others, are regularly used.

     Each facility on their list is inspected weekly. These inspections include an examination of required weekly written reports, as well as walkthroughs of the area. As no two facilities are the same, the inspector must become an expert on each one and approach each in a different manner, Ward said.

      “We have to be able to walk out into a motor pool and look at wash racks, waste storage and recycling and paint booths,” she said.

      As they may deal with petroleum products in one facility and caustic substances in another, LaBonte said they developed a system called the Environmental Protection Plan, a product prominently of Ward’s efforts, to help guide them through each inspection and any responses that may be required.

      Like when they collect water samples from homes, the team uses inspections as a time of teaching to correct bad behavior and educate the individual on why they cannot dump furniture in fields or woods or pour cleaners down a drain, he said. However, these are also things the individual should already know not to do.

      “If it’s something that, ‘OK, they made a mistake, let’s help them back through it,’” LaBonte said. “If you catch a Soldier dumping paint down the drain, he should know better than that. That should never happen.”

      For a majority of their inspections, when a violation is found or a unit fails their inspection altogether, the team works with them to correct the situation, clean up any spills and more, LaBonte said.

      “A lot of time you have inspectors come in, they tell you what you messed up and then they leave,” Ward said. “We’re still here and we are going to walk them through the process. This is how you take care of this, we have this equipment here … We really try to go over and above to help these units out and really take it personally when they don’t.”

     In severe cases of violations, hazardous spills, illegal activities or gross inspection failures, the team must report it to the garrison commander, LaBonte said. After that, the branch may send in the entire team of inspectors to assist with the cleanup and getting things back in order.

      There is never an excuse for improperly handling or disposing of hazardous materials or waste at Fort Riley, he said. Anyone can turn in these items to the Household Hazardous Waste Collection Center at 1945 Fourth Street or the Hazardous Material Processing Center at 1930 Fourth Street. The staff there makes the process as simple as possible with no paperwork required.

      “We make all these things so simple,” he said. “I like how we do it here. Getting rid of hazardous materials and waste is just easy. It’s not a challenge for anyone … It’s easy to turn in … We don’t want to find containers in ditches (like) in years past. We’ve made it simple for them.”

      These regular inspections are not only a priority for the Compliance Branch to preserve Fort Riley and maintain regulations, but they also prepare the installation for inspections from the EPA — inspections the installation has been passing without issue for several years, LaBonte said.

     “The EPA, we went several years without even a finding,” he said. “Then we did have one finding this year of a paint can open and if that’s the worst thing they can find on an installation of this size, I’d say that we are really doing a dang good job.”

 

TRAINING

     Soldiers serving an additional duty as an Environmental Team leader are an asset to the Compliance Branch, said James Hill, training instructor for DPW – Environmental.

     These Soldiers serve as the eyes, ears and educators on behalf of the staff when they cannot be there. The Environmental Team leaders manage the weekly reports, enforce regulations, ensure everything is handled properly and educate their fellow Soldiers.

      Hill has been training these Soldiers since 2003. He offers a two-day long course twice a month to certify them. During the course, Hill said he covers a wide variety of topics from understanding environmental actions like the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act to properly filling out required forms.

      “We go over the regulations, we go over the compliance program and we go over what they need to do as far as their inspections,” he said.

      One of the major points of this course is the weekly inspections. Hill said he puts additional emphasis on ensuring the Soldiers are thoroughly trained on conducting them properly.

      “I’ll train them on this weekly inspection,” he said. “We go over this pretty thoroughly and then we have our own inspection form.”

      During the course, Hill said he takes them to the recycling center, both hazardous materials collection centers and to a motor pool to show them firsthand how everything needs to be done.

      After a year, the Soldiers will return to him for a two-hour refresher course on their training.

      Ward said having these Soldiers help make inspections smoother, reduces the number of violations and more, but it’s an uphill battle for the compliance team. Each time a new Environmental Team leader is trained and ready, another one is moving on from Fort Riley for a permanent change of station.

     “Our biggest challenge is continuity,” Ward said. “Just as soon as you get the environmental team, you get them on board and trained and there’s a learning curve, so it takes time, well, then they’re getting PCS’d (permanent change of station) and that’s just the military way of life.”

      That’s just one more reason why the inspectors work so hard to educate and assist the Soldiers when they’re in the facilities, Ward said.

      “It’s more of an education process,” LaBonte said. “You’ve got to teach the folks what to do in order for them to get it right.”

 

THE ALLY

     For many, an inspection means someone is present to see what’s going wrong, but LaBonte said they are there to see that the units are doing right and should something be wrong, they’re there to help fix it.

      “I don’t want people to be afraid when we walk in, I want people to be like ‘OK, these folks are here to help us’,” he said.

      Ward agreed with LaBonte, adding they are an ally or asset to everyone to be used.

      “I think a lot of times people perceive Environmental as the stop sign,” she said. “The ‘you can’t do that because of this minnow.’ That’s what a lot of people have the perception of … We try to enable the units to be able to do what they do, so we always brief and tell them ‘hey, we’re not just the inspectors coming in, we’re an asset to your organization.’”

      Because Fort Riley is also their home and they want to protect it for generations to come, Ward said.

     “Our families have lives here,” she said. “We all drink the water. We’ve trained at the training areas … If we don’t sustain it, it won’t be here for future generations. This isn’t just regulations, this is Fort Riley.”

      For more information about water quality or environmental at Fort Riley and more, call 785-239-2630 or visit DPW – Environmental’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/FortRileyEnvironmentalOffice.