$2.5M in Cleanup Funds for Tyonek, Dutch Harbor, and Utqiaġvik
The former Barrow movie theater occupied a rusting Quonset hut at the defunct Naval Arctic Research Laboratory on the outskirts of Utqiaġvik.
Three Alaska Native village corporations split $2.5 million in federal grant funding to assess and clean up contamination on lands conveyed through the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA). This funding is the first funding awarded from the $20 million appropriated by Congress this year, distributed by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Cleaning a Stain
ANCSA conveyed 44 million acres to Alaska Native regional and village corporations (plus $1 billion as compensation for remaining claims). Some of the lands had been contaminated due to fuel storage, power generation, waste handling practices, mining, and other activities involving arsenic, asbestos, lead, mercury, pesticides, or petroleum products.
“It is a stain on the federal government that contaminated lands were transferred to Alaska natives as part of the commitment under ANCSA,” says Senator Lisa Murkowski. “The contaminants that remain on these lands remain a threat to Alaskans. It has long been a priority of mine to address this environmental injustice. As a senior appropriator, I created this new program to direct funds to assess and clean up these lands after years of inaction from the federal agencies.”
The three village corporations selected in this initial round of EPA’s Contaminated ANCSA Lands Program are Tyonek Native Corporation (TNC), Ounalashka Corporation, and Ukpeaġvik Iñupiat Corporation (UIC).
TNC receives $1 million to conduct an inventory, characterization, and decommissioning of abandoned drums and cleanup of any remaining petroleum and other surface contaminants on the Iniskin Peninsula, across Cook Inlet from Homer.
“The Iniskin area is important to the Tyonek community and many adjacent ecosystems,” says TNC CEO Stephen Peskosky. “We look forward to completion of this project and seeing our lands returned to their natural splendor.”
Ounalashka Corporation also gets $1 million. The grant is to remove soils contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and conduct an initial round of soil and groundwater sampling at a World War II-era warehouse in Dutch Harbor.
“As with many other ANCSA lands, several sections of the land deeded to OC were contaminated lands from the actions of the WWII Aleutian Islands campaign,” says Ounalashka Corporation President Denise Rankin. “Thanks to the ANCSA Contaminated lands grant, we will finally be able to clean the land around Building 551 of PCB contamination, making for a healthier environment for our shareholders, tribal members, and the community.”
UIC has been selected to receive $582,345 to assess lands affected by a fuel spill and conduct lead and asbestos testing and abatement at the former Naval Arctic Research Laboratory on the outskirts of Utqiaġvik.
“Ukpeaġvik Iñupiat Corporation is thrilled and honored to be one of the first organizations to be selected for the EPA’s project funding aimed at addressing contaminated ANCSA lands,” says Ukpeaġvik Iñupiat Corporation President and CEO Pearl Brower. “The important work that is to come from the EPA Contaminated ANCSA Land Assistance Agreements resonates deeply with our core commitment to protecting our lands for future generations.”
Part of the former Naval Arctic Research Laboratory remains in use by Iḷisaġvik College, but the rest was left to crumble. The site has been owned by UIC since 1984.
EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan announced the funding selections in Fairbanks during a visit with Senator Murkowski. “We’re excited to deploy these funds and help Alaska Native communities clean up the legacy contamination left behind on conveyed lands,” Regan said.
Murkowski added, “I look forward to additional announcements from EPA in the near future that will support further efforts to improve the health and safety of Alaska communities.”
In the fiscal year 2023 omnibus bill, Congress appropriated $20 million for EPA to establish and implement a grant program to assist Alaska tribal entities with addressing contamination on ANCSA lands that were contaminated at the time of conveyance. These grants can be used for assessment and remediation of the contaminated sites, and to support related community outreach.
EPA expects to select additional projects for funding in late 2023 or in 2024.