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Cam Noltemeyer: Keep a close watch on Whittaker-Bermite

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: August 12, 2010 4:55 a.m.
Updated: August 12, 2010 4:55 a.m.
 

The former Whittaker-Bermite property is a 996-acre contaminated site in the center of our city. The state Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC) held a public hearing on July 29 regarding the next major step in cleaning up this property. They were there to present their plan and to take questions prior to the draft remedial action plan (RAP) being approved. They had experts in their field present, and a court reporter recorded the meeting.

Unfortunately, very few residents of our city took advantage of this opportunity. The soil and water on this site is contaminated. Since 1987, the land has had a long history of attempts to clean it up. Years later, much work remains.

To clean up the property, the DTSC divided it into seven operable units, or OUs. A human-health and ecological baseline risk assessment concluded that perchlorate, some chlorinated volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like PCE, TCE, vinyl chloride and depleted uranium posed a health risk to potential users of the site and to the environment.

The July 29 meeting concerned OU2 through OU6, the major part of the site. Like OU1 before them, the cleanup covered was only for surface soil cleanup. The deep-soil contamination and contaminated water will be addressed in the OU7 remedial action plan.

Cleanup of OU1 is not complete. VOCs and perchlorate - a byproduct of rocket fuel linked to human thyroid problems - are still on the site. Certain areas will have to be addressed in OU7. Unrestricted land use may not be possible. It has not received the final sign-off, according to the DTSC staff. The DTSC fact sheet had reported OU1 as completed.

Another issue remaining with the OU1 site is the 3.36 acres of riparian habitat on-site which is required as mitigation because of the altered streambed to extend Golden Valley Road. Parts of OU1 were taken for the development of the road. The state Department of Fish and Game required this.

While the work on OU1 continues the public must now direct their concerns to the cleanup of the major part of the site.
OU2 through OU5 all contain VOCs and perchlorate and other contaminants. OU3 has depleted uranium contamination, also. OU6 is 11 acres, and the 10-acre-plus Metrolink station along Soledad Canyon Road is included in this cleanup.

Some of the questions presented at the public hearing were regarding depleted uranium, grading and how the community will be notified of the movement of contaminated soil from off the site.

Radioactive depleted uranium was removed from OU3 prior to the hearing: 4,281 cubic yards of soil - 214 truck loads - were removed and shipped to a disposal facility in Clive, Utah. No public notice of this removal was given. Unmarked trucks moved the contaminated soil along undisclosed routes through the city and along our freeways.

An area in OU3 was used as a testing range for depleted uranium projectiles. The final survey to ensure that the depleted uranium was adequately removed, and the area is safe for future use, had not been received. The public asked that this cleanup be included in the remedial action plan. This had been reported as completed in the fact sheet prepared by the DTSC.

The RAP cleanup objectives will be based on the final grade in the former Porta Bella plan for the property, and not the current grade. That plan requires massive grading. The environmental document for this project is now more than 15 years old. Is a new environmental review needed? The DTSC acknowledged that some of the areas designed for unrestricted use in the plan might not be suitable for unrestricted use even after remediation.

We urge the city and the DTSC to remember condition DS12 required as part of a court settlement. It states that the entire 996-acre site be cleaned up prior to the issuance of any grading permits.

If you are concerned about the cleanup of this project, you may want to read and comment on the remedial action plan. The deadline is Aug. 19.

We appreciate the DTCS's efforts at public outreach, but the above questions make it all the more obvious why Santa Clarita needs a community advisory group. A public that is aware and asking questions will ensure that the regulatory agencies do their best to make sure our valley will remain a healthy place to live.

You can contact the DTSC public outreach specialist Yvette LaDuke at yladuke@dtsc.ca.gov. You can view most of the cleanup documents at www.evirostor.dtsc.ca.gov/public. (Type "Santa Clarita" in the city field and look for the Whittaker-Bermite site).

Cam Noltemeyer is a Santa Clarita resident and a board member of Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. "Environmentally Speaking" appears Thursdays and rotates among local environmentalists.

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