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Knowing what highway passes by a sampling well, seeing how the topography of the earth changes after soil removal, and visualizing the concentration of contamination in a groundwater plume are all concepts once left up to the interpretation of black-and-white text and data in the mind of the reader.

Now, thanks to a combination of historic photos, satellite imaging, 3D maps, and data-informed animations, the story of environmental remediation and beneficial reuse comes to life with our new Colonie, New York, Site story map.

Story maps are interactive tools that combine maps with text, images, and multimedia content to convey a story about a topic, such as the history of an LM site or project. They are an effective medium for conveying information to nontechnical audiences in an organized and visually rich web-based environment.

“They provide stakeholders with readily accessible, integrated and transparent insights into the legacy of a site that currently is only available through information available within documents of the site webpage and Geospatial Environmental Mapping System (GEMS),” explains Josh Linard, technical data manager for LM.

“GEMS provides data and limited context,” Linard continues. “Site webpages provide context with limited data. The story map lets stakeholders experience both data and context on an intuitive platform.”

The Colonie story map reaches back into the nineteenth century. Manufacturing at the Colonie site began in 1870 and, over the years, the property would be home to a commercial wood operation and Magnus Metal Company, a manufacturer of bronze railroad components, before being purchased in 1937 by National Lead Industries (NL).

NL operated the property as a foundry and began creating aircraft-related aluminum castings after the end of World War II — all before becoming a part of the nation’s nuclear history in 1958 when the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) licensed the site.

NL processed depleted uranium and small amounts of thorium on the property, as well as processed enriched uranium and manufactured fuel for experimental reactors. The plant primarily fabricated shielding components and ballast weights for aircraft and armor-piercing projectiles from depleted uranium.

The AEC contract terminated in 1968, and thereafter the plant fabricated shielding components, aircraft counterweights, and artillery projectiles from depleted uranium. The New York State Supreme Court shut down the NL plant in 1984, due to airborne uranium releases. Congress assigned the authority to clean up the AEC-related contamination to DOE.

DOE managed the site and cleanup under FUSRAP from 1984 to 1997. During this period, DOE investigated soil and groundwater, cleaned up 53 of 56 vicinity properties, removed the on-site buildings, and disposed of the waste materials generated during these actions.

In 1997, Congress transferred cleanup actions to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). Between 1999 and 2014, USACE completed the large-scale soil removal action at the main site and the three remaining vicinity properties, initiated a groundwater monitoring program to measure the progress of monitored natural attenuation for volatile organic compounds, and investigated uranium dust contamination in vicinity homes and commercial entities.

Users of the Colonie story map can explore photos from the cleanup show the methodical and large-scale effort of soil remediation on site and the accompanying animation allows users to see the site after excavation of contaminated soil with an additional layer illustrating what the site looked like after resurfacing.

Contaminated soils readied for removal from the Colonie site
Contaminated soils readied for removal from the Colonie site

The story map format also allows for the incorporation of animations. For instance, the LM Support Groundwater Geochemistry group created an animation that shows the location, depths, and concentration of contaminants in the groundwater, allowing users to contextualize the scope of the contamination, while seeing where monitoring wells have been placed.

Groundwater contamination plume animation
Groundwater contamination plume animation

On September 30, 2019, USACE transferred responsibility for long-term stewardship of the Colonie site to LM. Long-term stewardship responsibilities for LM consist of monitoring groundwater, maintaining institutional controls for the soil easement areas, managing site records, conducting long-term periodic reviews, and responding to stakeholder inquiries.

DOE has determined that the site be made available for future redevelopment to benefit the community. LM is making the site available to the U.S. General Services Administration to market it for sale or transfer.

As for story map technology being used on current or future sites, Josh Linard comments, “There is definitely potential. The Colonie story Map was our pilot to better understand the effort required. I do know that other sites are planning them, and we’re excited to better understand how sites will leverage the technology.”