Bear Creek RRS Continues to Pose an Environmental Threat
By Paul Erhart, Environmental Specialist Tanana Tribal Council

The Bear Creek RRS was built in 1956-7, and officially activated on January 6, 1959. It was an original part of the White Alice Communications System (WACS). Bear Creek RRS was a troposphere scatter station linking Indian Mountain RRS, Kalalalet Creek RRS, and Pedro Dome RRS. The WAC systems were phased out during the 1970's and were replaced by Satellite Earth stations and commercial long distance carriers.

During the time of operations, the installation consisted of a communications facility, an airstrip, a solid waste disposal area, and access road, petroleum oil and lubricant (POL) tank farm, and a water right of way. The communications facility consisted of an equipment building/dormitory, a vehicle maintenance shop, a vehicle operations shop, heated parking, a fire water pump station, a diesel fuel storage tank, a gasoline storage tank, and a water storage tank. The POL tank farm is located 8 miles down the access road on the north bank of the Yukon River.

The Bear Creek site was active from 1959 to 1979. Critical information was never recorded regarding practices of maintaining hazardous substances. These include but are not limited to Polychlorinated Biphenyl (PCBs), Aroclor 1260, Asbestos, Lead paint, Diesel related organics, Gasoline related organics, a solid waste landfill, discarded drums, Pesticides, (Organo Chlorine 24-D, 245-T, DDT, etc.).

In November 1981, a notice of the intent to relinquish Bear Creek RRS was sent to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). In the summer of 1996 the Civil Engineering Squadron from Elmendorf Air Force Base with total disregard to the people of Tanana came in and dismantled the BCRRS as fast as time would allow. Digging a big hole in the ground with bulldozers and front-end loaders, they cut down the dishes and receivers, bulldozed the building with total to the hazardous substances contained within, pushing over the storage tanks without even checking to see what they contained, and finally pushing all debris and hazardous substances into the huge hole in the ground. They buried it with up to four feet of soil as a so-called cap. This is supposedly to stop the materials buried from leaching out into the environment.

The Air Force never at any time tried to work with the entities of Tanana to consider their input in the overall abatement programs that took place at BCRRS since 1981. Just this year (1998) have they made a conscious effort to make information available to the Tanana people as to what went on at this site. Still yet, there is no information known exactly what is buried in the huge landfill of 1996.

The BCRRS sits on a hill directly northeast of the village in the watershed that flows into four different streams that are used by the residents of Tanana. According to the U.S. Soil Conservation Service, the soils at BCRRS belong to the Typic Cryachrepts-very gravelly, hilly to steep-Histic Pergelic Cryaquepts-loamy, nearly to rolling association. This association is made up of 55 percent well-drained soils, 10 percent moderately drained soils, and 35 percent poorly drained soils.

Over half of all materials buried at the BCRRS are prone to leaching, during the spring at tun-off time, and during summers and falls of high rain content can send the hazardous substances flowing right into the streams that are used by the people of Tanana. In November of 1997, the Tanana Tribal Council received an IGAP Grant from the EPA to address environmental problems on traditional tribal hunting areas, etc. In the summer of 1998, the Tanana Tribal Council's environmental and subsistence people will be conduction stream analysis on the four streams directly affected by the landfill from BCRRS. Stream assessment and or stream monitoring will analyze the impacted streams for any change in water quality, and macroinverterbrate numbers.

Macro-invertebrates are organisms that are large. Hence the term (macro) meaning large enough to be visualized by the naked eye and most important of all they lack a backbone, meaning invertebrate. They inhabit all kinds of different streams, from running, to fast flowing, to slow-moving muddy rivers. Some examples of macroinvertebrates are Stoneflies, Mayflies, Caddisflies, Dragonflies, Crayfish, fresh water shrimp, water bugs, Dobsonfly, flies, midges, beetles, and worms. Aquatic macroinvertebrates are the mine canaries of all streams because they are indicators of overall health of each stream ecosystem. They are affected by the chemical and biological conditions of the stream they inhabit, they cannot escape pollution and/or hazardous substances that are present in the stream, and because of this they show the overall effects of short and long term effects of pollution, they show the cumulative effects of pollution, they show us the effects of pollutants not detected by traditional means, they are an integral part of the streams food web, some species are very intolerant to any type of pollution and most of all they are easy to sample and identify.

Stream analysis will be an on going operation for the Tanana Tribal Council, as long as the landfill at BCRRS is in place it will always pose an environmental threat to the Boreal ecosystem and the people who use the streams for drinking water, hunting, fishing, trapping, and recreation.