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New Mexico issues notice against US Air Force for missed deadline in contamination case

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ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico — State officials on Thursday called out the U.S. Air Force for missing a deadline to design and implement an interim system for cleaning up contamination from a fuel leak at a New Mexico base.

The Environment Department's notice of violation relates to a decades-old fuel leak from underground pipes at an aircraft fuel-loading facility at Kirtland Air Force Base.

Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn said the Air Force has made progress over the past year but "results are what ultimately matter the most."

Flynn said the state's expectations won't be satisfied until the Air Force begins operating a pump-and-treat system as part of the long-term effort to keep the contamination from reaching the city of Albuquerque's drinking water wells.

As part of the notice, the Air Force faces a civil penalty up to $10,000 and an additional $5,000 for each day the violation continues.

Base officials were reviewing the state's notice.

The Air Force has been under pressure from state regulators and the agency that provides drinking water to the Albuquerque metropolitan area to step up efforts to address the plume.

Tons of soil that had surrounded the old pipeline at the fueling station were removed by tractors and semi-trucks last summer as part of the cleanup plan. That work addressed only the first layer of contamination.

The Air Force also is using a vacuum system to suck vapors from the soil at deeper levels. So far, that technology has recovered more than 500,000 gallons of fuel.

The other more complicated piece of the plan involves cleaning up contaminated water that's close to 500 feet below the surface.

The size of the spill has been estimated at anywhere from nearly 6 million to 24 million gallons, but Air Force officials have said recent studies aimed at sizing up the plume's dimensions have come in on the lower end.

The Air Force has suggested drilling eight extraction wells, rather than just one as previously proposed. The expanded proposal has yet to be formally reviewed by the Environment Department.

Under the notice of violation, the state wants the Air Force to submit a plan that outlines the more expansive approach. Regulators say they also will consider abating a portion of the penalties if the Air Force is able to begin treating contaminated groundwater by the end of June.

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