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Jan-25-2012 12:32printcomments

California Quelches Plans to Transform Marine Base into Homes

Voice of OC reveals dimming hope for Irvine's 'Great Park' project.

MCAS El Toro
Not much of the old place exists, but it will always be remembered by hundreds of thousands of Marines.
Salem-News.com photo by Tim King

(SALEM) - The story of the proposed redevelopment of the old El Toro Marine base in Irvine, California is beginning to match our predictions from more than three years ago. The effort was bogus from day one; the base is packed with toxic chemicals and their residue and no sensible person would consider living even close to it, let alone 'on' the old wreck of a base.

Tim King, USMC, 1981- El Toro

I knew it in another time, when Marine Corps Air Station El Toro was like the rest of Orange County; it looked great on the outside, however contaminated it was inside. Those of us who served there as Marines were also contaminated, as were our families.

Some friends I made in the Marine Corps friends have had problems far worse than mine; one has had to bury two of his children. I almost had to do that too. One of my sons born while I served at El Toro and lived in base housing, had a collapsed bowel at the age of four-months. He barely survived. Another son, also an El Toro baby, was born with an epiglottis the size of a 40-year old man's. He required surgery as an infant also and today has intestinal colitis. Were these illnesses from the toxicity of El Toro? Having discussed the matter with several medical experts, the answer is that these illnesses are very consistent with contamination from TCE, trichloroethylene, one of the principle contaminants of El Toro.

However the story today shouldn't even be about the base; the only morally responsible thing to do with El Toro is to put a super tall fence around it and close it off to human access; the story is about the contaminated water flowing under this place, that passes directly beneath Irvine City Hall, before being chucked into the ocean as untreated, deadly waste.

It was in 2008 that we first lamented the fate of this once-proud military base, one that stood ready to defend Southern California with the best pilots and fighter jets in the U.S. arsenal.

I personally discovered the toxicity of the base, and plans to construct luxury homes on it, simultaneously, and I knew my mission at El Toro was not over. I have worked closely with Robert O'Dowd, Roger Butow and John Uldrich, all former El Toro Marines, all writers with Salem-News.com, in exposing this toxic mess of a place that officials in Irvine have the audacity to ignore, pretending it is a usable place when it is anything but that. Our team, mentioned above, has visited the base repeatedly in recent years, conducting on-site research and interviews.

We worked closely with former Irvine City Councilor Christina Shea when she was still in office, aiding her effort to expose the underhanded money dealings of Irvine Mayor Larry Agran. Roger Butow extensively explored the questionable hiring of 'Great Park' CEO Mike Ellzey, a man whose past does not match what he listed on paper to attain his position. Now, thanks to a decision from the office of California Governor Jerry Brown, redevelopment in California has been killed, and a recent state Supreme Court decision ensures that it won't be resurrected anytime soon. As Reporter Adam El Mahrek with Voice of OC writes in the column linked below, Great Park leaders find themselves on a far more uncertain path. Check out Adam's story for the details on this evolving story.

Another Twist in the Fate of Great Park Adam El Mahrek - Voice of OC


Tim King in 2007, covering the Afghanistan War

Tim King: Salem-News.com Editor and Writer

Tim King has more than twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. In addition to his role as a war correspondent, this Los Angeles native serves as Salem-News.com's Executive News Editor. Tim spent the winter of 2006/07 covering the war in Afghanistan, and he was in Iraq over the summer of 2008, reporting from the war while embedded with both the U.S. Army and the Marines. Tim is a former U.S. Marine.

Tim holds awards for reporting, photography, writing and editing, including the Silver Spoke Award by the National Coalition of Motorcyclists (2011), Excellence in Journalism Award by the Oregon Confederation of Motorcycle Clubs (2010), Oregon AP Award for Spot News Photographer of the Year (2004), First-place Electronic Media Award in Spot News, Las Vegas, (1998), Oregon AP Cooperation Award (1991); and several others including the 2005 Red Cross Good Neighborhood Award for reporting. Tim has several years of experience in network affiliate news TV stations, having worked as a reporter and photographer at NBC, ABC and FOX stations in Arizona, Nevada and Oregon. Tim was a member of the National Press Photographer's Association for several years and is a current member of the Orange County Press Club.

Serving the community in very real terms, Salem-News.com is the nation's only truly independent high traffic news Website. As News Editor, Tim among other things, is responsible for publishing the original content of 102 Salem-News.com writers. He reminds viewers that emails are easily missed and urges those trying to reach him, to please send a second email if the first goes unanswered. You can write to Tim at this address: newsroom@salem-news.com

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Anonymous January 26, 2012 6:47 pm (Pacific time)

Tim is there any scientific evidence available that could be used in a court proceeding? For example a per capital accounting of different diseases/birth defects for those who lived on base (or any military base) and the general civilian population living in different parts of the country? This would be supplemented with family medical histories. Possibly the CDC or the military has studies that can be gotten via the Freedom of Information Act. Recall the Love Canal case? They had the statistical goods, and that's what it takes to collect damages and/or get the top professional second to none media involved...the FOX Network.

Tim King: El Toro was added to the EPA Superfund list many years ago, and it is the U.S. Navy that contracted the work that led to the findings of overwhelming levels of TCE, PCE, Benzene and the list goes on and on.  There is a whole separate allegation of U-235 Enriched Uranium being present on soil outside of the base perimeter on the old EOD, and also four other areas, landfills.  Since I am bringing this up, here is a quote from Dr. Chuck Bennett who died shortly after revealing this information.  

 "The Uranium they found in Site 1 has too much Uranium 235 in it (N.B. it is the U235 in Uranium that makes nuclear power plants work and splits when an atom bomb explodes). The amount of U235 in the Site 1 samples is more than twice as much as you would find in natural uranium, and several outside experts have confirmed that the Site 1 results demonstrate enriched uranium. If it is enriched, it is man made and not natural. If it is not natural, the DoN will become liable for remediating all the Uranium. If it is shown to be enriched Uranium at the base, don’t bother to ask me how it got there. Ask the DoN."

Dr. Bennett's untimely death was followed by all of his research 'disappearing' from his garage, according to second-hand reports that are attributed to his family.  His quote above and far more were published by Orange County press at the time.   My report on this from 2008 has substantially more: Have Irvine and Lennar Ignored Hazardous Nuclear Waste at El Toro?  

We have well over 100 articles about El Toro, but this one from 2010 is particularly revealing, Roger Butow and I stormed the Irvine City Council and offered testimony, working at the time with two City Council members who were trying to get to the truth, they were not fully successful but points like this have been damaging to those who attempt to conceal the truth: Irvine City Council Wrestles El Toro Marines Over Deadly Toxins 

There is a law called the 'Feres Doctrine' that blocks military members from suing over illnesses contracted during military service.  It is a blatant example of the government's stone cold position toward veterans.  I hope I am answering your question; there are no easy answers, significant documentation of the contamination, but little real reaction to it by those who wish to profit from the base.

Roger E. B├╝tow January 25, 2012 6:33 pm (Pacific time)

It's become pretty obvious that the situation at former MCAS El Toro has many siblings when it comes to failed remediation of military bases/facilities---Where the tipping point is, or if it ever occurs at all, is unfortunately very specious.....It went beyond logical comprehension years ago.
I've been fighting with these people in South Orange County for over 10 years and they have no sense of shame or conscience. Tim saw that live and in person several years ago.
We must keep going forward, nonetheless, giving up, surrendering to fatigue or frustration is not an option. No retreat strategy, that would only fuel the arrogance of the opponents and ignore our fellow members of all armed forces.
In the end, maybe all we have is each other's 6s and 9s.......But I'll take that over smarmy a-hole bureaucrats anytime.
Death before dishonor.

Frank Vera January 25, 2012 3:09 pm (Pacific time)

The former George Air Force Base, CA, has similar problems with the water supply, health problems, and cover-up.

Did the Department of Defense, Army, and Air Force misrepresent the nature and extent of the contamination at George AFB? I believe that the answer is yes.

The Air Force is/was required by law to deny the existence of any environmental contamination that is/was the result of classified activities.

The DoD and Air Force inserted an interesting clause in the “Federal Facility Agreement for George AFB” that gives them the right to withhold records [pertaining to contamination] at the property. Page 43, 23. RELEASE OF RECORDS

The Air Force admits that it routinely withheld records about contamination from regulators, contractors, and the public. “Buried Radioactive Weapons Maintenance Waste”

Furthermore, The EPA and the Government Accountability Office found that the Air Force has no idea of what radioisotopes, the amount it buried, or the locations of the radioactive waste dumps on its bases. “Nuclear Regulation - The Military Would Benefit From a Comprehensive Waste Disposal Program”, “Better Data Needed For Radioactively Contaminated Defense Sites”, “Lost AEC Records”

Dr. Sabol was the Chief Environmental Officer for George AFB. However, I can find no evidence that Dr. Sabol was interviewed by any of the contractors involved in the Installation Restoration Program (IRP) or by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) for the Health Assessment of George AFB, and none of his environmental reports / investigations are in the George AFB Administrative Record (AR).

Frank Vera

Tim King: Frank, thanks for writing, we think about you guys all the time; the Air Force and Navy must have far more TCE and related problems, the USAF in particular.  I looked at your site and appreciate the clever name, nicely done, please work with us, let us promote your site, etc., we have 14 current and former U.S. Marines on our team and veterans of a few other services, both foreign and U.S., and we need better representation for other services.  We recently added John Bury, a Navy Vietnam Vet who is very actively involved in the fight over Agent Orange, I hope you have interest in doing the same for the Air Force.  Please feel free to write to me at tim@salem-news.com, thanks so much.

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