NAVAL STATION ROTA, Spain — It will cost about $90 million to clean up potential soil and ground water contamination at U.S. Army bases in Europe regardless which ones are closed, congressional investigators reported.

That figure is the most recent estimate by the Army Installation Management Agency, which oversees various support services at all U.S. Army bases in Europe.

The Government Accountability Office listed the cost in its July 14 report titled “Defense Infrastructure: Factors Affecting U.S. Infrastructure Costs Overseas and the Development of Comprehensive Master Plans.” It did not include clean-up costs for Air Force and Navy bases in Europe.

Congressional investigators recommended that regional overseas military commands should consider such factors as property values and environmental issues when deciding which bases to keep, consolidate or close.

The report found environmental issues continue to be a concern in South Korea, Japan and Europe.

Lt. Cmdr. Rick Haupt, a spokesman with the U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, Germany, said the estimate represents $72 million in probable damage on sites with known contamination and $18 million for spots where contamination is suspected. He did not give a list of the bases with known or suspected contamination, but said none are considered to constitute “known imminent and substantial endangerment” to human health or safety.

The Defense Department cleans overseas sites that have imminent health risks, must be repaired to maintain operations or as required by international agreements, according to Haupt.

The report did not say how environmental issues might influence base relocation decisions, but bases with contaminated soil or ground water could be costly to close. The report said the U.S. government might have to pay to clean up bases and property before the host-nation government takes them back. How much it would cost would vary by country. In the past, overseas regional commands have “incurred limited costs” for environmental clean-up projects at bases they have returned.

A May 2003 agreement between the U.S. and South Korean governments set procedures for removing or lowering contaminated soil or ground water, the GAO report said. The U.S. Pacific Command told the GAO that Japan is enacting more stringent environmental laws.

Efforts to remove or lower soil or ground water contamination to acceptable levels have been “an ongoing issue in Europe since at least the early 1990s,” according to the study. Greater negotiations might be required to address environmental issues, investigators added.

The study said including environmental and property value factors would help the military better manage its overseas infrastructure and the associated costs as the Pentagon shakes up the makeup of its forces.

President Bush announced Aug. 16 that he plans to bring home 60,000 to 70,000 overseas troops and close hundreds of bases in an effort to better fight future conflicts.

The congressional report sought to help Congress and the Defense Department provide better oversight of plans to overhaul military forces overseas. Congress ordered the Pentagon to submit master plans for each of the overseas commands with next year’s budget requests out of concern that tax money would go toward bases later deemed obsolete.

The GAO between November 2003 and April 2004 found that regional commands had not developed the mandated master plans because they were waiting for guidance from the Pentagon’s Global Posture Review. The report, also known as the GPR, will provide a blueprint for how U.S. forces will look overseas, and should be released after another round of U.S. base closures, Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Tracy O’Grady-Walsh said.

The Defense Department partially agreed with the agency’s recommendations in the GAO report.

Philip Grone, principal assistant deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and environment, wrote in response to the findings that comprehensive relocation plans should include environmental concerns but not how much the U.S. government would be compensated for returned bases.

The GAO study detailed some of the changes planned for Western Europe and Northeast Asia, including plans to consolidate 3,500 soldiers and 5,000 family members from 13 locations to Grafenwöhr, Germany. Investigators also wrote that negotiations are under way to return 36 installations in Germany, Herndon Housing in the United Kingdom, multiple radar sites in Turkey and Hellenikon and Iraklion air bases in Greece.

It noted that since the early 1990s, U.S. officials have recouped $175 million in cash through negotiated settlements with nine European countries. The U.S. government can negotiate with host nations on the residual value of bases. Those with barracks that could be turned into apartments, for example, might be worth more than a base with outdated armories.

As of fiscal 2003, the Defense Department had more than 6,000 installations, of which 702 are located overseas.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now