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COSTA MESA : Fuel Tanks Worry Airport Neighbors

November 20, 1991|MARY ANNE PEREZ

Judith Jelinek points down a row of buildings no more than 100 feet from three enormous fuel tanks used to gas up jet planes at John Wayne Airport.

"We're at the end of the building, so we're not as affected as some of these here, but we're all affected," said Jelinek, who owns a business with her husband in the Irvine Center business park.

Jelinek heads an ad hoc committee of business people interested in getting the fuel tanks removed, drained or placed underground because of what they perceive as a potential danger to people and surrounding property.

As airplanes roared off the runway, several business people from the industrial park gathered earlier this week to talk about the tanks, which are 22 feet high and have a capacity of 300,000 gallons each.

The group, which represents 109 building owners and 1,000 employees, has hired a consultant to find out as much as possible about the fuel facility and to assess the potential risk if an airplane plows into the tanks or an earthquake occurs. They have also hired an attorney to look into the possibility of filing a lawsuit to have the tanks removed.

Airport Director Jan Mittermeier said the fuel facility includes numerous safety measures, including a fire station nearby and fire-retardant foam dispensers and foam cannons inside and outside the tanks.

Mittermeier and other airport officials met with group representatives before tank construction began and consulted an expert who has studied a recent tank farm fire at the Denver airport.

"We had one of their engineers out here to explain how these two farms are different and why what happened in Denver would not happen here," Mittermeier said. Among other things, she said the jet fuel stored in the tanks is not as volatile as that used in Denver.

The group's consultant conducted a catastrophic risk analysis that differs substantially from the airport's assessment of the hazards. It concluded that the safe distance to avoid disaster would be 1 mile if one tank exploded and 2 miles if all three blew up.

"It's our understanding that a lot of the technology inside the tanks is pretty good," Jelinek said. "Our concern is mostly with the location and the risk it poses to people within a significant distance."

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