Seoul to pay for cleanup of 14 returned U.S. bases
TOKYO - South Korea will pay for the environmental cleanup of 14 former U.S. military sites after months of wrangling over who should pick up the bill.
South Korea’s defense ministry announced on Friday that the U.S. government had completed turning over the property. The sites include 10 military camps, a United Nations compound, a training center, a transportation office and a bridge.
Cleanup estimates have varied. A South Korean government official put the cost at $42 million, according to local media.
The Pentagon wants to return 59 bases with 33,000 acres of land and worth $1 billion to South Korea in less than four years. There are nearly 30,000 U.S. servicemembers stationed on the peninsula.
Disagreements over which government should pay to clean up polluted sites have dragged out the transfer of the property, which U.S. troops vacated months ago.
Pollution data at the sites have not been released by either the U.S. or South Korea. Last June, two civic groups sued the government’s Ministry of Environment to get the information.
Korean environmental groups such as Green Korea United have argued that U.S. forces polluted the property so they should clean it up.
But a pact signed in 1966 between the two countries states otherwise. The agreement says the U.S. government is not “obliged … to restore the facilities and areas to the condition in which they were at the time they became available to the United States armed forces.”
The treaty also says South Korea does not have to pay for the millions of dollars in buildings and other improvements when the property is turned over.
The South Korea Ministry of National Defense said it would “take necessary measures for efficient use of the real estate” and work with local governments on how the land will be used.
The sites turned over in the latest round of transfers are camps LaGuardia, Bonifas, Liberty Bell, Charlie Block, Giant, Greaves, Howze, Stanton, Nimble, Colbern, Freedom Bridge, the Seoul Transportation Movement Office, United Nations Compound and Cheju Training Center.
It’s uncertain whether the disagreement between the two countries over the environmental cleanup would impact future negotiations over bases, which continued on Monday in Washington.
“It would be inappropriate for us to speculate on the outcome of future negotiations,” USFK spokesman David Oten wrote in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes on Monday.