Former General Mitchell ARS Going Green

  • Published
  • By Susan Wolbarst
  • Public Affairs Office
One of the fastest-growing airports in the U.S. just got bigger - and greener. General Mitchell International Airport (GMIA) -- offering nonstop service to 40 cities "...has emerged as one of the USA's fast-growing airports by becoming a flashpoint for discount competition," according to a February 2010 article in USA Today. The airport hosts carriers including Air-Tran, Continental, American, U.S. Airways, United, Southwest, Sky West, Air Canada, Northwest, Delta and Republic Airlines.

Owned and operated by Milwaukee County, the airport grew larger in late July, when the Air Force Real Property Agency (AFRPA) transferred the 102-acre former General Mitchell Air Reserve Station via a Federal Aviation Administration supported Public Benefit Conveyance. The transfer was celebrated with a formal ceremony on July 26.

A number of initiatives at the former base have made it a greener place. One such effort takes aim at recovering propylene glycol-based deicing fluid used to deice aircraft in chilly Wisconsin from approximately November 1 to April 15.

According to Mr. Greg G. Failey, environmental manager at GMIA, "Deicing volumes are generally based on weather conditions, but to deice a 737, anywhere from 50-500 gallons is an acceptable range." When the material is sprayed on planes, a significant amount lands on the concrete underneath. It flows into drains specifically designed for glycol recovery.

The Air Force Real Property Agency granted a license for the 440th Air Force Reserve Air Base to provide an area adjacent to Runway 1L, now known as the South Ramp Deice Pad, where nearly all daily departures can be deiced when necessary. Up to eight narrow-bodied aircraft with wingspans up to 118 feet (such as a Boeing 737-7/8/900 series with winglets) can be deiced; one of the eight spots can accommodate a larger plane, such as a Boeing 757-200 series aircraft.

The Air Force Reserve left infrastructure in place for collecting the used deicing fluid, Mr. Failey explained, and "the airport invested roughly $200,000 for additional pumps, line painting, and the ability to store aircraft deicing fluid at the ramp." The collected glycol cannot be reused as an aircraft deicer without processing. GMIA is not equipped to do this, so it is sent to the publicly-owned treatment plant where it is processed in anaerobic digesters.

The capture goal is to keep 34% of the material out of the airport's storm sewer system, which flows to Wilson Park Creek and, ultimately, Lake Michigan. "Use of the South Ramp will improve our collection efficiency," Mr. Failey wrote in an email.

Another green initiative involved three buildings on the former base that were demolished and recycled. Unoccupied and sealed up, the buildings had flooded and become infested with mold and needed to be demolished.

Mr. Brian Groth, CEO of the Building Maintenance Division of BPM (caretaker of the site), and five others dismantled the buildings in mid-April, when the structures were still partially frozen. "We used Tyvek suits and respirators, boots, gloves and goggles," he said. "We took out carpeting, dry wall, ceiling tiles, and the bottom three-feet of insulation - anything that had mold on it."

Once the moldy debris was removed, they disassembled the buildings into component parts. In all, they recycled 10,960 pounds of sheet tin, 841 pounds of copper wire, 262 pounds of telephone and communication wires, and 24 prefabricated wooden ceiling trusses. They also recovered 15.5 pounds of refrigerants from air conditioners and a power transformer, both of which were re-used at the former Air Reserve Station.

At the Air Force's direction, Ms. Gwen Sheppard, president of BPM Corporation, the former base caretaker, made sure materials were disposed of properly. These included many batteries for computer uninterruptible power supply systems as well as numerous toner cartridges. All were donated to a recycling center to keep them out of the landfill.

The 440th Troop Carrier Wing moved from Minneapolis, Minnesota to General Mitchell Air Reserve Station in 1957. Until 2008, the Wing operated from GMARS as an air cargo unit with the mission of maintaining operational readiness for the airlift of tactical units, airborne units, personnel, supplies, and equipment into prepared or unprepared areas by landing or airdrop.

Since GMARS closed in 2008, the Air Force Real Property Agency has spent approximately $3.264 million to ensure the former base is environmentally safe, well maintained, and suitable for transfer.

The Air Force Real Property Agency is responsible for remediation and property transfer at 40 former Air Force installations throughout the United States under the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) program. At the height of the BRAC process, AFRPA managed 87,000 acres, or about 137 square miles of property. In the two decades since the first BRAC in 1988, the agency has transferred 88 percent, or more than 116 square miles of land - twice the area of Washington, D.C. - to local communities for public use. Throughout the transfer process, the Air Force remains committed to protecting human health and the environment.