RANTOUL, Ill. (WCIA) — Chanute Air Force Base is officially in the hands of the Village of Rantoul after 30 years of environmental cleanup and redevelopment efforts.
Air Force and village officials held a ceremony celebrating the completion of the transfer on Wednesday. The base was established in 1917 as a training center for pilots and ground crews. It closed in 1993 as part of the base realignment and closure program, leaving behind more than 2,000 acres of land and hundreds of buildings.
Since then, acres have slowly been given back to the village. Now, they own it all.
“It strikes a lot of emotion because it’s been so much hard work going into making sure that the public is safe in Rantoul,” Rantoul Mayor Charles Smith said.
Rantoul signed the deed to Chanute Air Force Base last month. Now, people from the Air Force and the village are gathering to celebrate the years of hard work it took to get here.
“The Air Force has given us a clean bill of health,” Smith said, “in that we’ve been able to identify the areas that should not be developed.”
The base had been used by all four branches of the military from World War I to the first Gulf War. Through all that time, chemicals were seeping into the grounds of the base. Work had to be done for the transfer to take place and to keep the community safe, including treating ground water, removing asbestos and making sure landfills are safe and maintained.
Air Force Environmental Coordinator Paul Carroll said some cleaning still has to be done.
“We’re doing additional work on one site, and we’re about to start investigating additional sites here as well,” he said.
$200 million has been invested in the cleanup efforts so far, and Carroll said just because the Air Force base is fully under Rantoul’s control, doesn’t mean they will stop looking for problematic areas.
“I told the restoration advisory board members that I wasn’t the first [environmental coordinator] that was going to be here,” Carroll said, “but I hope to be the last.”
The village has earned land back incrementally since Chanute was retired in 1993. They turned an old bowling lane into the village’s library, and opened up buildings for residential living. Now that most of the land has been cleared for use, Smith said more opportunities will be coming.
“We’re still proud of our past history with the Chanute Air Force Base,” Smith said. “We’re also turned and we’re looking straight at the future and what we’re building.”
The Air Force has cleaned 291 sites to date, and they plan on spending another $60 million to finish with the remaining 15 sites and any other sites that may come up in the future.