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Deadline looms for cleanup of Whittaker-Bermite site

State official say 1,000-acre site in the center of city needs to readied for construction by 2016

Posted: March 9, 2013 1:25 p.m.
Updated: March 9, 2013 1:25 p.m.

The Whittaker-Bermite site’s nearly 1,000 acres in the center of Santa Clarita needs to be ready for development by 2016 — and the state plans to ensure that happens, an official said recently.

“We want to have the site ready for development by 2016 — the fall of 2016,” said Senior Project Manager Jose Diaz of the state Department of Toxic Substances Control.

“Conceptually, (developers) have shown us a lot of areas where they think they want to build homes. We’re going to tell them ‘Yes, you can’ or ‘No, you can’t,’” he said.

The urgency of completing cleanup of toxins on the site follows years of seemingly slow progress as officials assessed the land the groundwater for pollutants, calculated who was going to pick up the bill and planned methods of cleanup.

But now the state Department of Toxic Substances Control and other involved agencies face a looming 2019 deadline, at which time Whittaker’ Corp.’s insurance expires — and funding for the cleanup ceases, Diaz told a group of concerned citizens during a meeting last week.

“Some (developers) wanted to put homes on a nice, quiet canyon, but it just happened to be the worst spot on the site,” he said of the former munitions-manufacturing plant, which is polluted with perchlorate and other harmful substances.

“There are going to be some areas that are going to be restricted,” he said. “Those areas can still be developed for commercial or industrial use, open space, parking lots and parks.”

“One of the other things I want to secure by 2016 is financial assurance,” Diaz said.

“Whittaker, a British company, can fly the coop any day,” he said. “The (Whittaker) insurance policy expires in 2019. So we want to make sure all their filings are taken care (of) while Whittaker is still here and the insurance is in place so that future property owners don’t have to pay for it.”

State watchdogs have said they expect the cleanup to switch into high gear this spring with soil, air and water treatment systems in place.

The Whittaker-Bermite site south of Soledad Canyon Road and east of Bouquet Canyon Road was a site for manufacturing explosives and munitions from the 1930s until 1987. Whittaker Corp. bought Bermite and thus inherited the problems when the site was found to be polluted.

Some of that pollution has seeped into groundwater, and Santa Clarita Valley groundwater is the source of about 50 percent of the valley’s drinking water.

The 996 acres just south of the Saugus Speedway are sometimes called Santa Clarita’s “doughnut hole” because of their strategic central location within the city.
on Twitter @jamesarthurholt




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