Alaska prepares to sue federal government over contamination on Native corporation land

A black-and-white aerial photo of a naval base in the Aleutians, with many ships in the harbor.
This 1944 photo shows part of the Naval Operating Base on Adak. Much of the island, which has at least 17 contaminated sites, has been conveyed to the Aleut Corp. (National Archives)

The state of Alaska is preparing to file lawsuits against the federal government over hundreds of contaminated sites that the federal government conveyed to Alaska Native corporations.

Alaska Commissioner of Environment Conservation Jason Brune said the corporations weren’t aware of the pollution when they selected the lands as part of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

“The village corporations (and) the regional corporations were promised lands as a direct offshoot of the 1971 ANCSA law and they didn’t expect to get damaged goods,” Brune said.

Much of the contamination is on former military installations and dates back to the Cold War or World War II. Sites include a chemical weapons dump in Adak as well as old tank farms all over Alaska and abandoned buildings that contain lead and asbestos.

There are 548 sites, and the state filed 548 notices of intent to sue in mid-December.

“We want the sites cleaned up,” Brune said. “That is our ultimate goal here.”

Brune said he pursued the matter with the Trump administration also but didn’t get results.

Organizations representing Alaska’s Native village and regional corporations have endorsed the state’s proposed action.

“Despite the federal government’s own reports on this contamination and our repeated requests for something to be done, it has been 50 years of inaction,” ANCSA Regional Association President Kim Reitmeier said, in a written statement issued by DEC.

A spokeswoman for the Bureau of Land Management said the BLM can’t comment on pending litigation.

Alaska Public Media

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