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Park's Eyesores on Way Out

Environment: City officials say removal of abandoned oil rigs, tanks will boost safety at Culver City Park.


Culver City officials said goodbye Friday to the abandoned oil rigs and tanks that have dotted the landscape of a local park.

In a ceremony at Culver City Park, Mayor Edward Wolkowitz thanked the state Department of Conservation and Bank of America for working to remove oil production equipment from the park.

"It's taken us 25 years to get here, to say that this park will never again be where people will drill for oil but will be a place where children can play," he said.

Culver City acquired the property in 1977, when it consisted of an oil field and landfill. Today, there are four baseball fields, a nature trail, a basketball court and skateboard park.

Community members had always considered the wells and rigs something of an eyesore, but after the company that owned the oil production field went out of business in 1991, city officials became increasingly concerned about safety.

The skateboard park, built about two years ago, served as a catalyst for change, city officials said. Parents wanted a bigger park, but space was limited because of the oil field.

The location of the skateboard park, directly in front of an abandoned oil well, was a constant reminder to children and parents.

"It focused the need to finally address this issue," said Chip Netzel of the city's Human Services Commission.

The abandoned oil field operation included six idle wells and an associated production facility consisting of storage tanks, dehydration equipment and shipping lines, remnants of the oil production that began there in the early 1940s. One idle well is next to a baseball diamond and another pair are next to a playground and the skateboard park.

Since May, the Department of Conservation's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources has paid $132,000 to clean up surface hazards at the site. The work includes dismantling pumping units and removing tanks. The agency will pay another $216,000 to plug the wells within several months.

Bank of America, which inherited title to the land in 1992, has agreed to give up its limited rights to use the park for oil production. Culver City did not pay the bank to relinquish those rights, officials said.

Conservation Department officials said an increasing number of communities throughout the state have criticized the use of highly valuable land for oil production.

"I would say with oil wells and oil farms, there is a general feeling among the community that this land could be better used," said Michael J. Kratovil, a supervisor for the Conservation Department.

Recently, television evangelist and businessman Pat Robertson abandoned plans to reopen an oil refinery in Santa Fe Springs. Environmentalists had opposed his plan, and the site is in the process of being turned into a mixed-used business park.

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