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Marines Criticized After Spill Into Bay

April 09, 1985|DAVE PALERMO | Times Staff Writer

The day after a spill at the Tustin U.S. Marine Corps helicopter base contaminated 10,000 gallons of water along a channel leading to Upper Newport Bay, state Fish and Game Department officials accused the Marines of failing to alleviate what they called "serious" soil contamination at the base.

Fish and Game spokesman Pat Moore said soil samples taken in 1983 showed that "significant concentrations" of pollutants, including chlorinated hydrocarbons and jet fuel, threatened to contaminate the underground water supply.

Reading from a press release issued late Monday afternoon, Moore said the soil pollution and Sunday's spillage of a mixture of detergent and a "degreasing agent" from the base into the San Diego Creek channel "focuses attention on a serious threat to a state ecological reserve, meaning the Upper Newport Bay."

Three Years of Talks

Moore said Marine Corps officials at the Tustin base have failed to rectify the ground contamination despite more than three years of talks with county and Fish and Game officials.

Lt. Cmdr. Robert Shultz said he was surprised that Fish and Game officials would criticize base officials for what he called a "totally separate and unrelated" pollution problem at the facility.

"We've been aware of the (soil contamination) problem, but I thought we were doing something to solve it," Shultz said. "You can't fix things overnight."

Shultz on Monday declined to discuss specifics of plans to alleviate soil contamination on the base because specialists working with the situation were not available.

Base officials said the spillage of 50 to 100 gallons of cleaning solvent Sunday occurred about a month before a $500,000 project designed to prevent such accidents was expected to be completed.

A federal Environmental Protection Agency official said there were no confirmed reports that the spillage killed any fish or wildlife. Moore said firemen called to assist with the cleanup "said they saw some sick birds in the area, but whether they're qualified to spot a sick bird, I'm not sure."

Robert Merryman, director of the county Environmental Management Agency, said, "From what we know, one fireman saw one dead fish."

Rack Shut Down

Marine officials said the spillage occurred because one of two "wash racks" used to clean aircraft at the base was shut down during the construction of a pollution-abatement project aimed at confining and treating drainage from the racks. Shultz said the project, which involves channeling runoff from the racks to an existing sewer system so it does not discharge into the channel, is expected to be finished "in about four weeks."

Because twice as many aircraft were being cleaned on the remaining rack, Shultz said a drainage basin on the base overflowed, spilling about 50 to 100 gallons of the detergent into the San Diego Creek channel. About 10,000 gallons of water was contaminated by the spillage, officials said.

"It's ironic that the very construction aimed at making this safe caused the problem in the first place," Shultz said.

The IT Corp., a private firm based in Wilmington, spent about seven hours "vacuuming" contaminated matter from the channel. Larry Fay, IT's director of administration, said the "primary cost" of the cleanup will involve a $55-per-hour charge for the use of four trucks used to suck the mixture out of the water.

EPA spokesman Larry Wilson said his agency will pay for the cleanup.

Wilson said initial reports on Sunday that there were two sources of contaminates proved unfounded.

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