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Cam Noltemeyer: Why we need a citizens advisory group

Posted: April 28, 2010 1:05 p.m.
Updated: April 29, 2010 4:55 a.m.
Last January, a meeting was held to reform the citizen advisory group for the Whittaker/Bermite property. It is a 996-acre, contaminated site - or brown field - in the middle of Santa Clarita. The site was used for the manufacturing, storage and testing of explosives in the 1970s. That activity caused pollution to both the soil in that area and to our water supply.

The state Department of Toxic Substances Control is responsible for overseeing the cleanup. California law gives the public the right to be informed of the cleanup. The state legislators rightly felt the local community would be most knowledgeable and the most affected by any pollution problem, and therefore should be involved in the clean-up process.

They wanted to ensure the local community would be informed of progress and procedures, and have an opportunity to give input and provide information.

Once a pollution site receives a clean-up order, the local community can establish a citizen advisory group. CAGs are a way to keep our government agencies on track and responsive to the public. They are also a way to keep the community informed and updated.

Many community groups have been watching the Whittaker/Bermite cleanup for some time. When the city approved a housing project for the area, a citizen's group, "People For Environmentally Responsible Clean-Up, Inc.," or PERC, filed litigation on behalf of the community to ensure no construction could take place until the entire site was completely cleaned up.

They settled for a condition on the project approval called "DS12," that "For the entire 996-acre site, the applicant and/or the developer shall provide evidence, to the satisfaction of the city, of proper hazardous waste identification and remediation from the California Environmental Protection Agency/Department of Toxic Substance Control prior to the issuance of any grading permits.

Until such evidence has been received, no construction may commence on the entire site until it is cleared by Cal EPA/DTSC."

But that settlement occurred quite some time ago. Does anyone remember it? Those who attended the CAG meeting last January heard a review and update on this important requirement.

They were also informed of the progress on the one area - Operable Unit 1 - being cleaned up. There are three areas in OU1 that may have restrictions placed on development because of contamination.

The March CAG meeting reviewed two issues: the cleanup of depleted uranium from the site, and a report from the health department on water quality.

It was a surprise to hear that cleanup of the depleted uranium has already started, despite the fact there has been no public hearing on the Operative Units two through six where it is located. The depleted uranium contamination is located in OU3.

Since the first part of April, there have been 119 truckloads of soil contaminated with depleted uranium shipped off to a facility in Utah. The expected number of truckloads is not expected to exceed 200. The project is expected to be completed in May.

Our city must have known about this, but apparently no one in the public did. Shouldn't the public have been made aware of this issue, and the truck routes being used through our city?

Jeff O'Keefe from the state Department of Health Services attended the meeting, and discussed the issue of water quality and future testing of the well water before it can be used for potable use.

According to the Department of Health Services, the last time any water testing was conducted for depleted uranium was 2003, apparently in the closed Newhall and Saugus wells, but not in the Stadium well where runoff might be affecting the alluvial aquifer.

He said they will be testing for depleted uranium using EPA method 521 and a host of other chemicals soon.

The Sierra Club is also watching, routinely demanding in project comment letters that no additional project approvals be granted until the water clean-up facility is functioning.

The CAG is the community's opportunity to be informed and question the agencies about this important cleanup and how it is affecting our city.

If you want to be involved, contact me at, and I will add you to the list for the next meeting.

Cam Noltemeyer is a Santa Clarita resident and a board member of Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. "Environmentally Speaking" appears Thursdays and rotates among local environmentalists.


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