USFK presents environmental cleanup plan to South Korea
SEOUL — U.S. Forces Korea has presented an environmental cleanup plan to South Korea that the Americans say goes “above and beyond” previous agreements about the almost 60 bases going from U.S. to South Korean control, a USFK spokesman said.
South Korean officials still must accept the plan, USFK spokesman David Oten said Friday. USFK declined to release any estimate of the cost, which the United States will pay, before a joint U.S.-South Korean public statement was prepared.
“The government has been authorized to spend what is needed” to follow the U.S.-written plan, Oten said.
A South Korean Ministry of National Defense spokesman was unable to comment on the issue Friday afternoon.
The proposal is part of a 17-month negotiation about land the U.S. military has used for training and living for decades, Oten said. In addition to everyday infrastructure such as heating systems and parking lots, some areas include firing ranges.
Already, the United States has turned over 26 bases — about 11,000 acres — as part of an overall plan both countries approved to move most U.S. forces here to a central part of the peninsula.
USFK will go ahead with the planned environmental cleanup measures for future land turnovers, Oten said. For the 26 bases the United States already vacated, USFK is waiting to negotiate a schedule to complete the work. Until then, the United States will continue to pay South Korean contractors a combined $400,000 a month to guard the land, Oten said.
USFK also plans to use a technique called “bioslurping,” which treats petroleum-contaminated soils by both creating vents in the land and skimming fuel from the groundwater, according to Oten.
Under the current U.S.-South Korean agreement, the South Koreans get back the sites as-is, complete with infrastructure. The United States is required to clean only areas that contain “imminent and substantial endangerments to human health and safety,” according to a USFK statement on Friday.
That agreement has prompted complaints from South Korean environmental advocates who say the United States should do more.
A Korean Ministry of the Environment report dated October 2005 claimed most U.S. installations were seriously contaminated by leaking oil and heavy metals. The report said oil and lead levels were four times those permitted by South Korean environmental standards.
Go Ji-sun, a spokeswoman for the environmental group Green Korea, said Friday she had heard of the plan but had not seen any details. She said she was worried USFK would not clean up “every single contamination” made.
It is USFK that has “messed up” the land, she said. “It is their responsibility to clean it up.”
Hwang Hae-rym contributed to this report.
U.S. Forces Korea’s cleanup efforts include: