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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA / A news summary

O.C. Failed to Do El Toro Environmental Study

August 16, 2000

SANTA ANA — Ready to approve a lease allowing Orange County to run the El Toro base for the first time, frustrated supervisors learned Tuesday that its staff had never conducted an environmental assessment of the property, making the county potentially liable for environmental damage.

Without the examination, the county must rely on one supplied by the Navy, said Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who contended that the county would be unable to protect itself from future lawsuits by tenants.

"Why would anyone in their right mind buy a home without doing an inspection?" he asked.

The news that the county had dragged its feet for more than two years and failed to get a license to conduct the assessment was disclosed Monday at the supervisors' staff briefing--just weeks before the Navy's Sept. 1 lease deadline.

If no lease is signed, the Navy has said it will take the drastic action of locking the gates at the former base, cutting off use by the public of the horse stables, a golf course, child care facilities and a recreational vehicle storage facility.

Marine officials say that 85% of the base's contaminated areas have been cleaned, which environmental officials do not dispute. The remaining 15% of the contaminated property includes 12 acres containing landfills where solvents were dumped, a miles-wide plume of tainted ground water and also underground storage tanks that contain jet fuel and oils, slated for eventual removal.

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