Air Force Must Test For Soil Contamination Around Controversial Pipeline

May 24, 2018

U.S. representatives Henry Cuellar, Joaquín Castro, and Lloyd Doggett Thursday secured an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act which would improve the wastewater infrastructure for Joint Base San Antonio and surrounding areas.

The wastewater pipeline that runs through JBSA serves about 500,000 people in southwest San Antonio and on Lackland Air Force Base. The pipeline, known as W-6, has experienced several sewage overflows in the last few years. San Antonio was mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency to inspect, fix and replace parts of it.

The proposed route of the replacement pipeline crosses an area of the base that contains capped and closed landfills with unknown contents. The Air Force and the city disagree about who would be liable for any contamination discovered during site investigations.

Officials from the city, JBSA, the Air Force, and the San Antonio Water System participated in a series of negotiations, but were not able to reach an agreement.

Cuellar’s amendment requires the Air Force to conduct soil sampling along the proposed pipeline route to determine if any hazardous substances are present. He testified before the House Thursday that the pipeline project had reached a standstill.

“Project negotiations are being held up because the proposed route transects two very old landfills whose contents are unknown,” he said. “Soil sampling to identify potential contaminants along the proposed construction site will allow this project to move forward.”

Cuellar added in a statement that “San Antonio is experiencing rapid population growth in Bexar County and it is one of the fastest growing areas in the U.S. The increasing need for wastewater services is an essential part of that growth.”

There is no required date for the soil sampling to take place, according to members of Cuellar’s staff. However, the secretary of the Air Force must submit the results of the soil samplings to the Committees on Armed Services of the Senate and the House no later than 120 days after the amendment goes into effect. The earliest that could happen is Oct. 1.

Carson Frame can be reached at carson@tpr.org or on Twitter @carson_frame