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Port Heiden Radio Relay Station

Site Location
  • DEC Contaminated Sites contact: Melinda Brunner, Project Manager, 907-451-2192 (Fairbanks)
  • U.S. Air Force contact: Robert Johnston, Project Manager for Port Heiden, Air Force Civil Engineer Center, 907-552-7193 (Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson)
  • Click on photos or maps for larger versions.
  • Contacts updated: 3/27/2019
  • Summary updated: 3/27/2019

Site Narrative

sacks containing pcb in port hedein

Super Sacks® of PCB-contaminated soil at the barge landing (2016)(Courtesy: Air Force)


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.

 Port Heiden’s Meshik School (Courtesy: Air Force)

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.

Area Map (Courtesy: Air Force)

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.

Cleanup Work History: 1981 through 2018

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.

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.

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 (PDF) 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.

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.

2014: First Five-Year Review for evaluation of remedy protectiveness OT001, WP002, SS004, LF007, and the Antenna Pads, Contaminated Soil Removal Areas, Drum Storage Area, and Focus Area. Based on the findings of this first five-year review, the actions performed for soil and groundwater at these sites are considered protective in the short‐term because exposures appear to be under control, and no unacceptable risks are occurring. Site Road PCB removal continues with 1,144.84 tons of PCB-contaminated soil removed. Landfarming activities continue for petroleum contaminated soil.

2015: Site Road PCB removal continues with 10,639.21 tons of PCB-contaminated soil removed in 2015. Landfarming activities continue for petroleum contaminated soil and results for diesel range organics are lower than 2014 results by 50 percent (4,300 mg/kg down to 2,130 mg/kg).

2016: Site Road PCB removal continues with 12,100.1 tons of PCB-contaminated soil removed in 2016. Landfarming activities continue for petroleum contaminated soil and test results are lower than 2015 results by 80 percent (2,130 mg/kg down to 442 mg/kg)

2017: Site Road PCB removal continues with 2360.47 tons of PCB-contaminated soil removed in 2017. Landfarming activities continue for petroleum contaminated soil and test results are lower than 2015 results by 25 percent (442 mg/kg down to 328 mg/kg).

2018: Explanation of Significant Differences (ESD) for increased quantities of PCB-contaminated soil and higher associated transport/disposal costs since the last ESD in 2010 from the Site Road excavation. No groundwater monitoring took place this field season due to funding delays and contractual issues.

Current Status

Site Road/Former Fuel Pipeline Corridor, between the airport and the Radio Relay Station
The most significant contamination in Port Heiden was the PCB-contaminated soil in this area. The cleanup is set to be done by September 2019.
Radio Relay Station
Most of the remaining contamination at Port Heiden is in the Radio Relay Station area. The soil still has PCB hotspots, TCE, diesel and other petroleum constituents, and the groundwater still has TCE, diesel and other petroleum constituents. Crews are also working at the Radio Relay Station during this field season (2019), 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. Second Five-Year Review to evaluate protectiveness of chosen cleanup remedies at various sites is due in May 2019.
Marine Terminal Area
The contamination in this area was from petroleum, and the majority of the land that’s contaminated is now under the waters of Bristol Bay. There is little contaminated area that has not eroded away.
Former Fuel Pipeline Corridor between the airport and the Marine Terminal Area
There are areas of petroleum contamination in this area (Site SS06), and the Air Force is addressing them through land-use controls and groundwater monitoring.

Soil sampling for Site Road for the 2012 summer/fall field season. (Air Force/Jacobs map)

More Information

Air Force contractors work in protective gear while moving the PCB-contaminated soil.

General DEC Fact Sheets

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.

See reports on more sites, including closed ones in the area. (Choose “Port Heiden” in the city drop-down box.)