Forest Service could delay Wrangell contaminated soil move

A backhoe digs up part of the old Byford Junkyard in Wrangell in 2014. After removing old cars, oil drums and other trash, the state is treating and moving contaminated soil to a rock quarry south of town. (Photo courtesy Department of Environmental Conservation)

The U.S. Forest Service could put the brakes on a state plan to store contaminated soil near a Wrangell recreation area.

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The Department of Environmental Conservation plans to truck almost 20,000 cubic yards of lead-laced soil to a rock quarry near the Pat’s Creek area, south of town, as part of a multi-million-dollar effort to clean up an old junkyard.

Officials say the soil has been treated with a phosphate-based product called EcoBond, so the lead won’t leach into soil or waterways.

The trucks carrying the soil will have to use a Forest Service road, which requires a permit.

Tongass National Forest spokesman Paul Robbins Jr. said that could take a while.

“The Tongass National Forest will not issue a road authorization before a NEPA process is completed and we’ve received substantial public involvement,” Robbins said.

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires federal agencies to assess the effects of resource development and other actions on federal property.

The process can take six months to two years.

State officials originally scheduled the work to begin July 31. Earlier this week, they said they hoped to begin later this month.

The soil-storage plan has been controversial, with residents questioning its safety and limited public comment opportunities.

The Department of Environmental Conservation plans a public workshop Aug. 21 and an Aug. 22 meeting with the Wrangell Borough Assembly on. Further details will be announced later.

Officials say the soil needs to be moved because it threatens the marine environment.