El Toro runways could become roadways
Irvine has concrete plans for recycling materials from the former base.
April 25, 2002
By PETER LARSEN and JIM RADCLIFFE
The Orange County Register
Orange County residents who fought an El Toro airport can take satisfaction in the thought that within a few years they may be driving over the ground-down remnants of the Marine Corps runways they once feared.
In pitching their latest plans for El Toro, Irvine officials say they are consulting with concrete recyclers, with the idea of locating a recycling facility at El Toro to grind up the old runways and taxiways - as much as 3 million tons by some estimates.
Likely buyers of the crushed concrete are developers and public agencies building roads, parking lots and other projects in Orange County, such as the 14,000 new homes planned for Rancho Mission Viejo, a 16-mile southern extension of the Foothill (241) Toll Road - even the reuse of El Toro.
Before that happens, though, concrete demolition and recycling companies will joust for the plum contract that El Toro represents now that the Navy on Tuesday ruled out an airport there.
"It would be the biggest demolition project in Southern California,'' said Dave Ewles, vice president of Ewles Materials, a concrete and asphalt recycling company with yards in Irvine, San Juan Capistrano and Stanton.
"With a job of that magnitude, people will be coming out of the woodwork,'' said Allen Ellison, national contracts manager for the Penhall Co., an Anaheim-based firm that specializes in concrete demolition.
Navy officials will meet with Irvine council members and county supervisors today to begin talks on how to implement the city's new plan for El Toro, which includes a large park near the center of the crisscrossed runways.
Barring a comeback by airport backers in court or at the polls, the Irvine plan will see the demolition of those runways. Irvine officials already are planning to locate a recycling center at the base for about three years, until all of its concrete and asphalt debris is crunched into materials most likely to be used as the base for new construction of roads and parking lots.
"It's huge - I've always been confident about this approach,'' said Dan Jung, the city of Irvine's head El Toro planner. "From runways to roadways. This is hot."
At El Toro, there would be plenty of concrete to break up and grind down.
Bob Peterson, manager of transportation and special projects for the county El Toro office, said the runways, aprons and taxiways alone at the former fighter-jet base make up more than 900 acres of asphalt and concrete, an average 1 foot deep.
The closest comparison for the El Toro concrete work is found in Denver, where the redevelopment of Stapleton International Airport into homes, businesses and parks offers clues to the disposal of the concrete at El Toro.
Rick Givan, vice president of operations for Recycled Materials Co., said his firm won the six-year contract to demolish and recycle about 1,000 acres of runways and other paved areas at Stapleton - about 6 million tons in all.
On 100 acres at one end of the property, the company crunches the concrete into new materials.
The cost to the city of Denver is potentially nothing, Givan said. The 10-year contract calls for the company to make the bulk of its money by selling the material it recycles.
To break the runways, the company uses "a gate breaker," he said. A 9-ton gate mounted on the back of a large truck is raised six feet, then dropped, every 10 inches to crack the runway.
Givan said his firm did the same work at the former Lowry Air Force Base in Denver, though that job was closer to 2 million tons.
Among the environmental impacts that have to be addressed for the work are the dust and noise - as much as 80 decibels - it creates.
At Lowry, "It was kind of, 'Bang! Bang! Bang!'" said Hilarie Portell, a spokeswoman for the authority converting the base into a residential development.
Ellison of the Penhall Co. described a similar process used in its jobs, which include a complicated $4 million demolition of one of the runways at Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport in 1999.
There, a 9,200-foot runway was sawed into slabs and removed by a large crew working around the clock for eight days, he said.
The El Toro runways range from 8,000 to 10,000 feet.
Ewles said his industry typically gets concrete and asphalt to recycle for free from contractors who need to dispose of it. They sell it for base materials for roads and parking lots, normally getting $3 to $4 a ton.
Because of the trucking costs, material usually isn't sold more than 25 miles from a recycling site, he said.
"At El Toro, as they start selling off parcels, or get enough money to develop certain parts of the parks or the campus, I would imagine they would demolish whatever is in the way and reuse it there,'' Ewles said.