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The Marines Have Landed in IrvineTim King Salem-News.com
Too many dead and walking wounded; El Toro's dark side moving toward the light.
(LAGUNA BEACH) - Hundreds of Marines have contacted Salem-News.com since we started writing about the serious health concerns at the old, now-closed El Toro Marine Corps Air Station in Irvine. They now have a friend on the Irvine City Council. That is good, because sometimes even warriors need a hero.
City Councilwoman Christina Shea, who has served the city of Irvine as an elected official for twenty years, says she will continue to communicate her concerns about the way Irvine Mayor Larry Agran has handled the problems relating to El Toro. The matter will be brought before the Council Tuesday night after other politicians offer a prefab glowing report about how well their little project is doing, when in fact it has all but crept to the speed of a funeral procession.
Our team of former-Marine activist reporters will be on hand also, to offer the brass tacks of what we know about the deadly pollutants through our extensive coverage of this issue, and the Marines who have paid the price. To think that a city, any city in America, would be well served by a mayor who strikes deals to plant parks and houses on deadly contaminated soil with companies like Lennar Homes, known for building homes on toxic closed down military bases, is simply ridiculous.
People are scared, they now know that the base was a dangerous place for Marines and civilians to serve and live because of raw contaminants that were poured into the ground for over half a century. The fact that Shea is pushing this matter into view of the local public is both heartening and encouraging. Much information has been suppressed, and it is partly complicated, but not so much that it isn't clear.
The Marines left the base in 1999, booting the Navy out of their 'Top Gun' base- the former Miramar Naval Air Station in San Diego, and sending the sailors packing to Fallon, Nevada. Sailors and deserts?
The Marine base, after much debate, was finally designated to become the site of a future housing subdivision and a 'Great Park' which never got beyond the demonstration stage. Above ground trees and plants are a mute testimony to the viability of the toxic soil at this old military reservation. In the beginning there was $240 million for the Great Park. Now as Shea says, there only remains $19 million, and along with that are numerous questions.
Here are the items on the agenda for Tuesday:
Approve the plans, specifications, and contract documents for the Orange County Great Park Western Sector Park Development Plan (Phase 1) – Phase 1 of the Community Garden project on file with the Orange County Great Park Corporation.
Approve the plans, specifications, and contract documents for the Orange County Great Park Western Sector Park Development Plan (Phase 1) – Palm Court and Buildings 242 and 245 project on file with the Orange County Great Park Corporation.
Approve the purchase of four seats at a table for the September 22, 2010 Orange County Arts Awards event at a cost of $5,000.
Probably the most glaring issue immediately facing the Irvine Council, is the fact that the El Toro runways, designated to be torn up five years ago according to Shea and city council records, haven't been touched. Roger Butow contends that the only logical reason Agran keeps balking over tearing up the runways, is the fear that massive contamination will be unearthed.
Issues that are already out of hand financially would skyrocket in terms of cost to Irvine, and the city's taxpayers. People in Orange County are getting it figured out, and good luck finding anyone off Agran's list of friends, who will openly advocate for the ugly orange balloon and the 'Great Pork' project.
11 Years of Nothing but Cost
The base was designated by the Environmental Protection Agency as an EPA 'Superfund' site well over a decade ago. The information about the hazardous aspects of the base has been available for years, but Irvine's mayor and the Great Parks Corp. and Lennar Corp., also a player in this game... have proceeded with absolutely no dialog about El Toro's contamination other than to state that there are no problems, when it is simply nothing but one BIG problem.
Shea's interest in our reports dates back over a year, when she initially had her staff contact Salem-News.com to get the real scoop on El Toro from a party that had no financial interest in the base; only the intent to educate people about the contaminants, and the plan to place a park and homes on El Toro.
Then there are today's area residents off the base, particularly in Irvine's Woodbridge community, which sits squarely on top of an underground plume of water contaminated with chemicals like the degreasing agent TCE (trichloroethylene) and benzene. It is the U.S. Navy itself that released the information about the base many years ago. The documents are all published and available to see at one Irvine Library and reportedly, on the base itself.
As our Environmental Reporter Roger Butow cites, the base sits on land that was heavily polluted with agricultural pesticides for years before El Toro was built during WWII. The problems go well beyond the military contamination.
Over the last three and half years, we have published 133 Salem-News.com stories with the tag El Toro. These stories about the old base include several video reports. There are also several articles about Camp Lejeune, a Marine base in North Carolina that is also contaminated, and still heavily used.
I have one story that might give you an idea of what this coverage, and Shea's response, means to Marines. I arrived at the Al Asad Marine Corps Air Station in October 2008 where I was working as a reporter and photographer for Salem-News.com. Upon entering the headquarters of my old El Toro group, Marine Wing Support Group 37, a Marine warrant officer introduced to me out of the blue said, "Hey, are you the guy doing the stories about El Toro being contaminated?"
There are thousands and thousands of Marines and sailors still serving who carry the El Toro thumbprint in their DNA. There are far more of us from previous years. I served at El Toro for over two years in the early 1980's. Salem-News.com writers Roger Butow and Robert O'Dowd served at the base in the 1960's, John Uldrich was an El Toro Marine in the late 1950's. Our Vietnam Correspondent Chuck Palazzo spent time at El Toro in the 1970's, the list does go on.
The matter will be heard in front of the Irvine City Council Tuesday evening and we will be there to bring you the action. Too much time has passed, too much money is missing, but most of all what is missing is transparency and sunshine. Larry Agran has taken this project to a ridiculous level and it is like a train getting ready to derail.
Along with military veteran support groups like Veterans for Change and environmental advocates, some with very successful backgrounds fighting environmental abuse in Orange County, we will be present at the Tuesday Irvine City Council meeting in mind, body and spirit. We appreciate that Christina Shea is viewing this as a human being and for the sake of human beings.
Read more about the Irvine City Council.
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