2010-12-09 / Community

Agreements finalize Rocketdyne cleanup

Boeing not part of the deal
By Carissa Marsh cmarsh@theacorn.com

The state signed final agreements Dec. 6 to clean up the former Rocketdyne test site as residents signaled broad approval and said they look forward to living once again in a toxin-free environment.

The agreements between the state and the Department of Energy and NASA cap nearly two years of negotiations to clean up the Santa Susana Field Lab, once a rocket engine and nuclear test site in the hills above Simi Valley and several miles from Oak Park

The Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC)—the state agency overseeing the cleanup—had been working to amend a 2007 cleanup order to include the provisions of Senate Bill 990, which requires the field lab to be cleaned to the most protective rural residential standard.

As of Monday, the state has enforceable agreements with two of the three responsible parties.

The largest landowner, Boeing, sued the DTSC in 2009 over the enforceability of SB 990 and is not a party to the agreements.

Still, the deal drew widespread applause.

“This is a milestone that fulfills commitments we made earlier this year to the community and brings to an end years of negotiation,” said Maziar Movassaghi, DTSC’s acting director. “It allows us to focus on cleaning the property, and we are truly pleased to get on with the work of cleaning this site for the surrounding community.”

Some people remain concerned that the high cleanup standard is unreasonable and could do more harm than good.

But for many local residents, especially those who’ve been following the issue and fighting for a proper cleanup for two decades, Dec. 6 was a day for celebration they thought would never come.

“We have attended more meetings than we can count. Our children have grown and now have children of their own, but finally (we have) a real cleanup,” said Marie Mason, a Santa Susana Knolls resident and member of the Rocketdyne Cleanup Coalition. “I thank DOE and NASA for finally doing the right thing.”

Oak Park resident Cindi Gortner worried that she had raised her three children near the site of a “nuclear disaster.”

“The signing of this agreement means that someday children nearby will grow up without the danger of radioactive and chemical contamination,” Gortner said.

Her 16-year-old daughter, Devyn, had joined the fight, founding Teens Against Toxins earlier this year. Like her mother, Devyn was thrilled by Monday’s news.

“A week ago I equated the current standing of the cleanup to pressing up to a glass barrier and being able to see the end but not being able to reach it,” Devyn Gortner said. “A week later and we’ve done it. We’ve demolished the barrier—we’ve broken through.”

Both chemical and radiological constituents will be cleaned to standards that will return the site to its native state, the way it was prior to the rocket tests and nuclear research.

The agreements also integrate the U.S. EPA’s radiological survey work into the site investigation and will use the agency’s expertise and resources to identify the areas of radiological contamination that need cleaning up.

The DTSC reached tentative agreements with the DOE and NASA in September.

NASA said it’s pleased to join the DOE in signing an agreement with the state.

“We are committed to working with these partners to address the environmental concerns at this former test site,” NASA administrator Charles Bolden said.

The agreements cover DOE’s 290 acres and NASA’s 451 acres; the Boeing Co. owns the remainder of the 2,850-acre property.

State officials including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer lauded the agreements, and Linda Adams, secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency, said the local residents’ trust in the safety of their environment would be restored.

State Sen. Fran Pavley (DSanta Monica) weighed in as well.

“For far too long the neighbors of the Santa Susana Field Lab have suffered from incredibly difficult illnesses,” Pavley said. “I’m thrilled that the community will finally receive what they deserve: the basic guarantee of clean water and uncontaminated soil.”

Assemblymember Julia Brownley (D-Woodland Hills), who co-authored SB 990 with former state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, called the signing “stupendous.”

Boeing waiting in the wings

Like other elected officials and local advocates, Brownely said the state still needs to get the largest landowner to agree to the cleanup.

The state has continued negotiations with Boeing in hopes that it can reach an agreement similar to those it signed with DOE and NASA. Boeing spokesperson Kamara Sams said the company supports a comprehensive negotiated settlement that accelerates the cleanup process.

But the aerospace giant is still concerned that a cleanup under SB 990 would harm the site’s natural habitat and beauty and that the number of trucks needed to remove all the soil would be a significant disruption to nearby residents. Brownley demanded Boeing call off its lawyers, saying enough is enough.

“You can still come out of this looking like the responsible corporate giant that you portray yourself to be,” Brownley said. “Do the right thing and, 50 years later, let’s get to work cleaning up the entire site without further delay.”

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