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Tech Sgt. Shane Bolles, noncommissioned officer in charge of Kunsan Air Base's water treatment plant, walks past a deteriorating building at the plant, which officials say dates to the Japanese occupation of Korea. "This is probably a perfect example of a building falling apart," he said.
Tech Sgt. Shane Bolles, noncommissioned officer in charge of Kunsan Air Base's water treatment plant, walks past a deteriorating building at the plant, which officials say dates to the Japanese occupation of Korea. "This is probably a perfect example of a building falling apart," he said. (Ashley Rowland / S&S)

Pacific edition, Wednesday, August 15, 2007

KUNSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — It takes seven South Koreans and eight U.S. airmen who work here at least 12 trips a day to shovel out water-purifying chemicals and run this aging water treatment plant.

But a $10.5 million expansion of the facility — originally planned for last year, and scheduled to start next spring — would mean the U.S. airmen who work there could be reassigned.

And it could make Kunsan Air Base’s sometimes foul-tasting water taste better.

“This is an old plant, and it needs upgrading,” said Tech. Sgt. Shane Bolles, the noncommissioned officer in charge of Kunsan’s water treatment plant. “Everything we do here is manually done.”

The expansion would double Kunsan’s water capacity from 1.25 to 2.5 million gallons a day. That expansion will accommodate possible future and surge demand, said Kunsan spokeswoman Capt. Tiffany Payette. South Korean Ministry of Defense officials have said U.S. Forces Korea is expanding Kunsan by 315 acres to accommodate the relocation of two helicopter battalions.

During the 18- to 24-month water plant expansion project, the air base will pay $5,000 a day to get its water from the city of Kunsan.

When asked why the project was delayed, Maj. Anthony Barrett, 8th Civil Engineering Squadron commander, said the extent of the project made it difficult to estimate the time needed to design it.

“Any project of substantial scope and technical complexity will experience delays in design while technical and logistical issues are worked out,” he said.

Kunsan’s water meets U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Air Force regulations, according to a report released in June by the Bioenvironmental Engineering Flight.

Bolles said that although the air base’s water is safe to drink, it often smells and tastes bad because of algae blooms, even though the water is treated with chemicals and a scuba diver cleans out a strainer when the problem is acute. He said the algae problem will decrease when the new plant is built, and computers will measure and feed chemicals into the water so airmen won’t have to do it by hand.

“It’s a lot easier for me to set a computer to feed so much chemical per hour than it is for me to have one of my airmen weigh it out,” Bolles said.

Parts of the plant were built before 1945, when Kunsan was a Japanese air base. At one point, maybe 20 years ago, officials considered shutting down the base. And over the years, the buildings have deteriorated because they haven’t been kept up.

“That’s why a lot of the maintenance went to the wayside. People said this base is closing, why take care of it?” Bolles said.

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