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ORANGE COUNTY

Site Found Too Toxic for Santa Ana Unified Campus

October 08, 2002|DANIEL YI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Soil samples from a proposed school site at the former Tustin Marine base showed unacceptably high levels of toxic substances, including metals and cancer-causing chemicals, according to an environmental report released Monday.

The report, first acknowledged by officials last week, puts in doubt plans for a combined elementary and middle school campus by the Santa Ana Unified School District for 22 acres at the corner of Red Hill and Warner avenues.

The land was part of a settlement reached in May between the city of Tustin and the district after years of legal wrangling over use of the former helicopter base, which closed in 1991. Under terms of its deal with the Navy to redevelop the land, Tustin was required to share some of it with other local agencies, including the Santa Ana school district.

Recognizing the potential for toxic hazards, the city agreed to pay $22 million if the district deemed the land too contaminated for a school campus.

The new findings make it likely the district will choose the money instead of the land. The Santa Ana school board will meet tonight to discuss its options.

According to the environmental report, portions of the lot have an "unacceptable level of risk associated with the presence of metals in soils." Consultants hired by the district also found the carcinogen vinyl chloride and suspected cancer-causing agent tetrachloroethene on the 22-acre lot.

They also did a visual survey of the underground sewer drain and found a "significant number of breaks," which increases the likelihood of soil contamination.

The extent of the contamination could not be determined because the survey was only a preliminary study of a limited number of soil samples, but it is clear the district will have to clean up the site before building a school.

The 62,000-student district is one of the most crowded in the state and in desperate need of land for new schools.

Tustin officials indicated last week that they may not be able to issue a letter of credit to back the $22-million cash option, which may complicate the settlement agreement. But Santa Ana school officials Monday expressed optimism that a satisfactory arrangement will be made.

"I am very comfortable working with Tustin," school board president John Palacio said.

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