By Bruce Wilcer, PG, M.SAME, Brad Clark, P.E., M.SAME, and Lori Kropidlowski, CPSM, CF APMP, M.SAME

The U.S. Army Parks Reserve Forces Training Area is a sub-installation of Fort Hunter Liggett, Calif., and which has served many different purposes throughout the years. Currently a mobilization and training center for U.S. Army Reserve personnel, Camp Parks is a premier academic institution, military intelligence facility, and battlefield simulation center.

For some time however, the base, which covers around 2,500-acres, also faced a persistent environmental concern: three burn pits used in the 1940s and 1950s to incinerate waste from a former U.S. Navy hospital had left traces of contaminants in soil.


To address the long-term contamination, a 32,000-yd3 cleanup project was conducted by Ahtna Environmental. But what was initially supposed to be a small excavation evolved into a large-scale project with more than 200 personnel, including engineers, scientists, equipment operators, laborers, and truck drivers (all requiring access clearance). The key objective was to remove and properly dispose of hazardous waste and debris from the former burn pits and regrade the area to blend in with the surrounding rolling hillside topography. The scope of work included researching, planning, and designing for a multitude of site-specific field activities.

Reassessing the project. Cleanup at Camp Parks was set to begin in 2015. However, due to regulatory, logistical, and other challenges, the removal portion did not start until 2020.

During the early stages of the project, there was a need to reassess the volume of hazardous waste that would need to be removed. A waste characterization study was conducted to determine a more accurate scale of the excavation. The research was designed to supplement the previous remedial investigation and feasibility study, and to provide a better understanding of the overall extent of the contamination. The reassessment revealed that 32,000-yd3 of contaminated soil needed to be removed, as opposed to the initial estimate of 8,000-yd3. This new estimate, which amounted to removing over 1,200 additional truckloads of soil, ash, and debris, allowed the Army to adjust the cost and schedule.

Berm areas offer benefits. Re-evaluation of the project netted another important benefit. Originally, the cleanup was to remove everything in the former burn pit. The subsequent investigation revealed the dividing berm areas were largely native, uncontaminated soil, and clean enough to reuse. This prevented 7,000-yd3 of soil from being unnecessarily disposed, and meant trucking in an equivalent amount of clean backfill was not necessary—a benefit that saved weeks of work and significant costs.

Despite the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic and a transportation redesign delaying work by a year, the Army was able to complete the project before California’s rainy season arrived and within the original excavation and regrading budget. PHOTOS COURTESY AHTNA ENVIRONMENTAL


The project encountered an unexpected challenge when a county road accessing the remote site from outside the base required additional documentation to permit its use. The Army was collaborating with the county about the access issue when COVID-19 struck, which threatened to impact a commitment to complete the work before California’s rainy season (typically lasting from October through April). After extensive discussions with the Army and local officials, the project team resolved the issue by redesigning the transportation plan to reroute trucks 4-mi through the firing ranges and training areas of the installation to exit the facility.

This redesign required an assessment of road capability and traffic management, which included evaluating and surveying more than 3-mi of paved roads through the installation to determine pre- and post-construction conditions. The revised route traversed stretches of single-lane roads across the range area, and required close coordination with range control personnel, the public works department, and base security.

While the transportation redesign delayed the project by one year and added 40 minutes to each round trip, the Army was able to complete the on-site work in four months. The operation transferred more than 1,600 truckloads of contaminated soil and debris to the hazardous waste landfill, sometimes running more than 60 trucks per day. Additionally, about 165 trucks delivered 1,600 truckloads of clean soil as backfill to support the site restoration regrading.

An average of 60 truckloads left the Camp Parks site daily to dispose of more than 32,000-yd3 of contaminated soil.


Despite the many challenges, the Camp Parks remediation was completed in October 2020 before the rainy season and within the original excavation and regrading budget. The remediated burn pits are now additional useable land to support the Army’s operations and mission for years to come.

The successful completion of the operation came down to three essential factors: communication, collaboration, and persistence. Moreover, an ability to persevere through adversity and cooperate with multiple partners contributed to the project’s success.

Bruce Wilcer, PG, M.SAME, is Senior Project Manager, Brad Clark, P.E., M.SAME, is Operations & Program Manager, and Lori Kropidlowski, CPSM, CF APMP, M.SAME, is Senior Business Development & Marketing Group Manager, Ahtna Environmental Inc. They can be reached at,, and

[This article first published in the January-February 2021 issue of The Military Engineer.]