By Phil Chase
21st Civil Engineer Squadron
THULE AIR BASE, Greenland — How do you get rid of 15,000 tons of scrap metal that has accumulated for 15 years? How do you find government funding for removal, when there is no funding available? How do you remove 15,000 tons of scrap metal in less than 100 days before the snow, ice, and negative temperatures return and make it impossible?
These were just some of the questions facing Thule Air Base, operating in often difficult conditions 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle.
It all began about 15 years ago with the demolition of fuel pipes and fuel tanks at Thule AB. At the time, there was an empty space near the bay that would allow for the eventual removal of the scrap metal. The scrap metal pile grew with demolished buildings, more tanks, more piping, and any metal lying around. The pile grew to a point that it covered a large area.
Funding was requested to contract out the removal of the scrap metal, but higher priority funding requirements took precedence. When funding became available and a contractor was selected, the contractor backed out when he realized he only had a few months to remove the metal and it could only be removed by ship. The scrap metal remained at Thule AB and continued to grow.
In 2010, the scrap metal market and especially the steel recycling market prices began to rise. The price of a ton of steel had risen to $435 a ton. A plan was formulated that could use the Peterson AFB Qualified Recycling Program to sell the scrap metal in a lot sale. The QRP would prepare an invitation for bid, advertise it on FedBizOps, and see if any contractors were interested in buying the scrap metal. The stipulations would include removing all the scrap metal by ship in 100 days at no cost to the U.S. Air Force or U.S. government, and return to the QRP a percentage of the contractor proceeds for the scrap metal.
Five bids were received. The removal of the scrap metal was awarded to Aarsleff of Denmark. They were able to insure payment for the metal prior to departing Thule AB and they could remove it in one summer. Their equipment was already at Thule AB and with a few additional items, could begin preparing the metal for shipping as soon as the weather warmed up.
Work began late April to prepare the metal for shipping. The first ship arrived July 7 and departed July 9 loaded with scrap metal. Prior to departure, Aarsleff handed over a check to Col. Mark Allen, former Thule AB commander, for $1,026,906.
“It’s been a pleasure to see a contractor like Aarsleff put so much effort into the cleanup with such a short timeframe to accomplish the work,” said Master Sgt. Michael Jacobs. “They began organizing, cutting, and preparing the scrap metal during the harsh parts of the winter to make sure their timeline for each ship was met.”
The QRP program has strict guidelines on how the money can be spent. First the money must be spent on recycling programs; Thule AB does not have a formal recycling program. Next the money can be spent on pollution abatement, energy conservation projects, occupational safety and health activities, and morale, welfare and recreation projects. Thule AB will develop a list of projects meeting these criteria and submit the list to the PAFB QRP Committee to review and prioritize.
The removal of the scrap metal pile at Thule AB not only brought a cash return for the metal, it also removed a current Environmental Safety and Occupational Health Compliance Assessment Management Program finding. In addition, the removal of the scrap metal has certainly improved relations with Greenland and the Danish government. The removal of the scrap metal also shows that the U.S. Air Force is a caretaker of the environment and is doing its share in making this part of the world a better place to live.