Division of Spill Prevention and Response


Port Heiden Radio Relay Station

Database Name: Port Heiden or Port Moller

Status: Active

Location: Port Heiden, on the north side of the Alaska Peninsula

Latitude: See database entries

Longitude: See database entries


DEC Contaminated Sites contact: Louis Howard, Project Manager, (907) 269-7552 (Anchorage)

U.S. Air Force contact: Richard Mauser, Project Manager for Port Heiden, Air Force Civil Engineer Center, (907) 552-5160 (Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson)

Contacts updated: Oct. 14, 2016

Summary updated: May 20, 2014

Click on photos or maps for larger versions.

“Super sacks” – each containing 5 cubic yards of PCB-contaminated soil – north of the airport runways await shipment to the Lower 48. Photo taken during the 2012 summer/fall field season. (Air Force photo)


Port Heiden, pop. 118, is located at the mouth of the Meshik River on the north side of the Alaska Peninsula, 424 miles southwest of Anchorage. It’s a traditional Alutiiq community – many maintain a subsistence lifestyle and are involved in commercial fishing.

The community has two former military installations:

In 1942, the War Department acquired more than 1 million acres for Fort Morrow. The old fort consisted of several hundred buildings, housed as many as 5,000 personnel, and had a footprint covering several square miles. Then the site was abandoned following World War II.

In the 1950s, the Air Force acquired 172 acres within the former Fort Morrow and built a White Alice site. The WACS sites relayed signals from Distant Early Warning (DEW) defense communication sites to combat centers of the Alaska air command. Port Heiden was also one of the state’s 12 DEW-line radar stations.

Preschoolers through 12th-graders attend Port Heiden’s Meshik School, which is about 2½ miles as the crow flies from the remaining contamination – the Radio Relay Station site. The community’s first school was established in the early 1950s, according to the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community & Economic Development. All photos on this page were taken in in Port Heiden in 2009, unless another year is noted. (Air Force photo)

The 12 DEW-line stations, along with 18 Aircraft Control and Warning stations, were built in Alaska from 1950 through 1959, to detect possible attacks from the Soviet Union. The Aleutian segment of DEW-line stations included a main station at Cold Bay, and auxiliary stations at Port Heiden, Port Moller, Cape Sarichef, Driftwood Bay and Nikolski.

The WACS stations wove a telephone and telegraph network by bouncing both civilian and military communications signals off the earth’s troposphere, enabling combat centers to receive reports of aircraft detected by the DEW line. Each site had large parabolic, tropospheric antennas.

The antennas stood 60 feet tall and 60 feet wide. WACS linked the Aircraft Control and Warning stations and the DEW-line with Elmendorf Air Force Base (AFB) and Eielson AFB, and also linked the Ballistic Missile Early Warning Site at Clear AFB with the North American Defense Command. The systems eventually consisted of 71 separate facilities.

The Air Force operated the WACS in Port Heiden until 1969, when it was converted to a Radio Relay Station. Then the Radio Relay Station became obsolete in the 1970s. It was abandoned in November 1978.

The old village site for Port Heiden was Meshik, on the coast, but residents moved from there to higher ground near Port Heiden’s airport and the former Radio Relay Station facility.

The above map shows an overview of the Radio Relay Station, Site Road/Former Fuel Pipeline Corridor (between the Radio Relay Station and the airport), Airport Road (from the airport to the Marine Terminal Area; the Former Fuel Pipeline Corridor runs near the road) and the Marine Terminal Area. Most of the homes of Port Heiden residents are in the area east of Airport Road, about where the upper left corner of the white “Former Pipeline Corridor” box is on the map. Meshik School is in the light area east of Airport Road.

The most significant contamination in Port Heiden was the PCB-contaminated soil along Site Road/Former Fuel Pipeline Corridor from the Radio Relay Station to the airport. The cleanup there is set to be done by September 2014. After that, most of the remaining contamination will be at the Radio Relay Station. The soil there still has PCB hotspots, TCE (trichloroethylene) and other chlorinated solvents, and diesel and other petroleum constituents. The groundwater at the Radio Relay Station still has TCE and other chlorinated solvents, plus diesel and other petroleum constituents. Crews are also working there during this field season (2014), and will continue in future field seasons. Residual soil and groundwater contamination will be addressed through land-use controls and long-term groundwater monitoring. The time to achieve cleanup is expected to take more than 10 years. (Air Force map)

The overall Port Heiden Radio Relay Station has three main areas: (1) the Radio Relay Station; (2) the Marine Terminal Area – the former location of a petroleum, oil and lubricant, or POL, tank farm and pump house; and (3) the Site Road/Former Fuel Pipeline Corridor, which is between the Radio Relay Station and the airport. (See the black and white map.) There are roughly 18 source areas at the overall site, and no buildings or structures from the radio relay station remain.


Public Health and Environmental Concerns

The soil still has PCB (polychlorinated biphenyls) hot spots, TCE (trichloroethylene) and other chlorinated solvents, diesel and other petroleum constituents. Groundwater contains TCE and other chlorinated solvents, diesel and other petroleum constituents. Multiple releases above-ground and below-ground occurred at the former facility.

People may be exposed to pollutants by touching contaminated soil or water (skin contact) or by accidentally ingesting contaminated soil or water. Contaminants such as PCBs that have bioaccumulated in fish and other wildlife may also pose a health threat to humans.


A History of the Cleanup Work

1981-1986 – The Air Force 5099th Civil Engineering and Operations Squadron removed hazardous material and PCB-contaminated soil from the former Port Heiden Radio Relay Station facility (referred to as the former RRS facility here).

1986-1988 – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps of Engineers) conducted site investigations and prepared bid documents for the complete demolition and restoration of the former RRS facility.

1990-1992 – The Army Corps of Engineers and its contractors conducted a complete demolition of the former RRS facility, and removed hazardous wastes and PCB- and petroleum-contaminated soil.

1995 – The 611th Air Support Group (the Air Force) conducted a preliminary assessment and site inspection, which included collecting soil samples from the former RRS facility.

2000 – The Air Force collected soil samples at those sites previously identified for further investigation.

2003 – The Army Corps of Engineers, under the Native American Lands Environmental Mitigation Program (or NALEMP), sampled all private drinking water supply wells in the community of Port Heiden.

2004 – The Air Force began the Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study process to identify any remaining contamination and evaluate risks.

The soil sampling for Site Road for the 2012 summer/fall field season is shown on the above map. Each short blue line across Site Road represents one sampling grid (see inset). Each square (or cell) in the grid represents one soil sample, and each grid represents a 15-foot by 15-foot sampling area, with a sample every foot. (Air Force/Jacobs map)

2005 – The Air Force finalized the Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study for work performed on 18 sites at the former RRS facility from May 2004 through September 2004. The field investigation included the collection of sufficient data to delineate the nature and extent of contamination present at the sites.

2007 – The Air Force awarded a performance-based contract for the cleanup of all the sites on the Port Heiden RRS facility. The contract included a Proposed Plan, Record of Decision, and implementing remedial actions.

2008 – The Air Force’s Proposed Plan selected excavation, washing and off-site disposal of PCB-contaminated soil in a permitted landfill as the preferred alternative for soil. For groundwater, natural attenuation and long-term monitoring were the preferred alternative.

2009 – DEC and the Air Force signed a Record of Decision. It required the excavation, soil-washing and disposal of PCB-contaminated soil in an off-site landfill. Long-term groundwater monitoring and institutional controls were the selected remedy for the contaminated groundwater. (An institutional control is a condition or restriction, usually long term, on a site to protect people and the environment from exposure to oil or a hazardous substance. It could range from a requirement to monitor soil or groundwater, to a fence or conservation easement. The institutional control stays with the land when it’s sold.)

2010 – DEC issued a Compliance Advisory to the Air Force for the improper disposal of PCB-contaminated soil above the level stated in the landfill permit – 10 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg). A compliance advisory is a letter that informs the responsible party of alleged violations of specific environmental regulations and provides deadlines for a response to comply with environmental regulations.

Sandbags keep a tarp on a stockpile of soil contaminated with PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) from blowing away at Port Heiden. The soil was later shipped to a Lower 48 facility, where it was burned it in a special incinerator or buried in a hazardous material landfill.

PCBs were manufactured in the U.S. from 1929 until they were banned in 1979, and most instances of contamination occurred before 1979. PCB contamination in Alaska mainly came from leaky electrical transformers and the improper disposal of PCB oil on the ground. (Air Force photo)

2011 – The Air Force’s performance-based contractor successfully removed PCB-contaminated soil from the landfill and sent it to a permitted facility in the Lower 48. The Air Force began removing PCB-contaminated soil that was found in the road between the airport and the former RRS facility.

2012 – DEC closed out the Compliance Advisory letter. The Air Force’s contractor for the Site Road cleanup successfully removed 19,129 cubic yards of PCB-contaminated soil and sent it to a permitted off-site disposal facility in Lower 48.

2013 – The removal of PCB-contaminated soil by the Air Force’s contractor continued for the remaining contamination at Site Road – an estimated 5,000 cubic yards.


Current Status

Air Force contractors work in protective gear while moving the PCB-contaminated soil. The tarp under the truck is to keep the truck’s tires from tracking the contamination onto the clean dirt on the road. PCBs are known to cause cancer in animals, and the data strongly suggest that PCBs cause cancer in humans, according to the EPA. PCBs also have significant non-carcinogenic effects on animals, including effects on the immune, reproductive, nervous and endocrine systems. Studies in humans provide evidence for the potential for non-carcinogenic health effects as well, the EPA said. PCBs bioaccumulate in fish and other wildlife.

More Information


General DEC Fact Sheets

"Cleanup Process for Contaminated Sites," (March 2009) – (pdf 304K)

"How DEC Makes Cleanup Decisions," (June 2009) – (pdf 20K)

"Introduction to Groundwater," (June 2009) – (pdf 412K)

"Understanding Contaminant Concentrations," (June 2009) – (pdf 164K)

"Department of Defense Cleanups," (June 2009) – (pdf 59K)

"Environmental Laws and Regulations," (June 2009) – (pdf 39K)

"Environmental Cleanup Methods," (June 2009) – (pdf 171K)

"Human Health Risk Assessment," (June 2009) – (pdf 78K)

"Common Alaska Contaminants and their Sources," (June 2009) – (pdf 240K)

Other websites about Port Heiden:


Meshik, Port Heiden’s old village site, is shown along the coast, south of the current-day Port Heiden. Residents moved from Meshik to higher ground near Port Heiden’s airport and the former Radio Relay Station facility, because storm waves had eroded much of the old townsite and threatened to destroy community buildings. Port Heiden incorporated in 1972. (Air Force photo)

Contaminated Sites Database reports

There are a number of individual sites that are contaminated on Port Heiden, and reports on the status of each are available on DEC's database.



For reports on more sites, including closed ones in the area, click here and choose “Port Heiden” in the city drop-down box.