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Toxic lot nears milestone

Six more ‘operating units’ remain to be treated on polluted Whittaker-Bermite land, officials say

Posted: December 8, 2010 10:18 p.m.
Updated: December 9, 2010 4:30 a.m.
 

Government officials monitoring the cleanup of nearly 1,000 acres of contaminated Whittaker-Bermite property in the heart of Santa Clarita could deem a portion of that land clean as early as February, an official said Wednesday.

Senior Project Manager Jose Diaz of the state Department of Toxic Substances Control — the agency in charge of overseeing the entire site’s cleanup — made the statement at a City Hall meeting of agencies involved in the cleanup.

“In the next couple of months, by about February or March, we’ll have something made available for the public,” Diaz told close to 20 professionals with associated interests in the property. “So in the spring, we should see a lot more movement on the property.”

One of seven areas inside the Whittaker-Bermite site earmarked for cleanup, “operating unit 1,” is expected to be cleaned to the satisfaction of state inspectors by then, he said.

Whittaker-Bermite was the site of a munitions plant operated from the 1930s through 1987, and the soil is polluted with perchlorate and other contaminants. Located behind and east of the Saugus Speedway, the 996 acres are sometimes called Santa Clarita’s “doughnut hole” because of their strategic central location within the city.

The pending release of “operating unit 1” came as welcome news for city officials eagerly pursuing acquisition of the property in the courts, one step at a time.

“This is a very positive comment,” said Santa Clarita City Manager Ken Pulskamp after the meeting. “We’ve been working for years to get the site cleaned up.

“Finally getting word that OU-1 will be signed off by the toxic substances department is very positive news,” he said, adding that construction on the site is still years away.

“It’s an assurance to the citizens of Santa Clarita that this whole site will one day get done. It’s a lot like painting a house: You do it room by room.”

Pulskamp opened the meeting by announcing the city had reached a court settlement in two ongoing legal battles over two areas of the Whittaker-Bermite site — a portion of Golden Valley Road and the parking lot at the Metrolink Station on Soledad Canyon Road.

The settlement, reached in Arizona bankruptcy court, also offers the city an opportunity to acquire the Whittaker-Bermite site by purchasing the balance of a secondary lien against the property.

Diaz, in explaining the state’s ongoing assessment of the cleanup, tempered his optimism about a spring release date by reminding those present that a lot of work must still be completed.

“What we’re going to see in the next couple of months is that we’ve approved the cleanup of OU-1,” he said. “But it doesn’t mean you can out there next week and start doing (developmental) work ... there’s a lot of work still to be done.”

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