“Cleanup of El Toro is Navy's job” by Marcia Rudolph
Marcia Rudolph is a member of the Lake Forest City Council and a founding member of RAB (Restoration Advisory Board) established by the Navy to deal with pollution cleanup issues at MCAS El Toro.
Published in the OC Register, December 16, 2001
The latest “cause celebre” regarding MCAS El Toro is clean up, of the contamination and toxins that were left behind by the Marines. During 50 years of military operations involving the defense of our nation, the best practices of the day were utilized, not knowing the potential risks to human health and the environment they would cause.
Before the base was officially designated for closure in June of 1993, the EPA had already designated sites on base to qualify under Superfund Law. With the clock ticking to total closure, the Department of the Navy, under whose authority the base exists, moved to organize staff and recruit members for the Restoration (read clean-up) Advisory Board. Rules of operation were written and the first official meeting was held in early 1994. I not only participated in the writing of the Rules of Operation, but attended the first meeting and almost all of the subsequent 54 such meetings to date.
The job of the RAB is to advise the Navy as to our personal concerns regarding its survey, studies and recommended actions that provide for cleaning, covering or, in very few cases, carting away the offending contaminated stuff. We are not involved at the RAB in reuse, and to do so defeats our purpose, which is to see that the clean-up is done, period. To date there are more than 70 linear feet of studies, reports and recommendations accumulated for review by the “public” (read citizen RAB members, government agency employees and various consultants). Through this process I have become familiar with the sites of contamination on the base and the Navy's proposed actions.
Some of the more worrisome issues involve four landfills, the contents of which we know not since the Navy refuses to bore into them to further evaluate their contents. There is a yet-to-be completed study of the ordnance (read bomb) disposal site and the existence of a perchlorate plume seeping downhill from the site.
Then there is a tank farm that the county has expressed concerns about the Navy's plan for closure. And the list goes on.
The Navy is on its third round of citizen RAB questioning of the validity of its previous studies.
So, what does all this mean to you, the reader and taxpayer of Orange County? First, the clean-up needs to be paid for by the whole nation since the base was protecting the whole nation, not just Orange County taxpayers. A letter from H. T. Johnson, assistant secretary of the Navy, states that “the military department must undertake any environmental remediation that may be necessary before conveyance of the property.”
Since Superfund law mandates that “the polluter pays,” as long as the land is in the hands of the Navy, it is on the hook to pay. Second, the base needs to stay in the ownership of the Navy unless and until all studies are complete, remediation is planned and in place, and all institutional controls (read deed restrictions) are known and planned for. Third, the notion that paving over the “mess” solves the problem is pure poppycock.
I can't imagine anyone who would advocate less than “clean” for the land we are hoping to deed to the future. Covering up the problem only leaves it for future generations to deal with. This is a matter of human health and the environment. We dare not compromise.