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Defense Department Vows Priority for Tierrasanta Ordnance Cleanup

February 15, 1985|DENNIS CUSHMAN | Times Staff Writer

"Priority attention" will be given to the problem of stray ordnance in the Tierrasanta community, the Department of Defense announced Thursday.

The order was in response to a letter sent late last year by Rep. Bill Lowery (R-San Diego) to Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, calling on him to seek funding for a long-term cleanup program for the community, which was built on a former military base.

Two Tierrasanta boys were killed and another was injured Dec. 10, 1983, after a live anti-tank shell they found exploded while they played with it. The shell had long been buried in the former Camp Elliot artillery range, but years of erosion exposed the shell to curious eyes, leading to the fatal explosion.

In the letter to Lowery, Deputy Secretary of Defense William Taft said, "The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is the department's executive agent for formerly used sites, has been directed to address the Tierrasanta area in this year's Environmental Restoration Program. Additionally, in recognition of the need for immediate attention to the problem, the Department of the Navy has been asked to develop a program to sweep, inspect and remove the ordnance from Tierrasanta."

According to David Palmer, program manager for the Office of Environmental Policy of the Department of Defense, a preliminary proposal for a cleanup program should be completed within 90 days.

The government's response was hailed by community leaders who had worked with Lowery for more than a year to get the funding.

"I think it was a great response," said Michael Mele, president of the Tierrasanta community council. "We are very pleased with Congressman Lowery. We couldn't be happier."

Funding for the cleanup will come from the Environmental Restoration Fund-Defense, a $314-million program established by Congress in 1983 to get rid of asbestos in buildings that the government sold to the Anchorage, Alaska, school district.

A California National Guard study, compiled immediately after the December, 1983, explosion, indicated that $4.5 million would be needed for an effective long-range program.

A 14-week Navy sweep of the area concluded April 27 after netting 190 pieces of ordnance, some of which was potentially explosive. Navy, federal and state officials said then that they had neither the manpower nor the money for an ongoing cleanup project.

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