Lingering contamination at El Toro will take about three years and $70 million to clean up, but poses no serious threat to the construction of homes, businesses and park land on the former Marine base, Navy officials said Friday.
The Navy's final report on base pollution, to be released Monday, will show that most of the land is clean and suitable for unrestricted development, said Wayne Arny, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for installations. Officials also plan a public forum Monday to explain how the base will be sold in pieces to developers this summer.
"We're ready to put all the property up for auction," Arny said.
But Greg Hurley, an environmental attorney who has monitored El Toro cleanup issues for eight years, warned against accepting the Navy's assurances that much of the land is clean. In most cases, he says, the designation was made after Navy officials failed to find documentation that toxic materials were stored or dumped there, not because of soil or water testing.
"On the eve of transfer, we're still discovering brand-new hazardous materials," Hurley said. "Everyone needs to think about that."
The condition of El Toro land is key to the timing and cost of redevelopment -- and the ability to get top dollar for the property. Base land is expected to fetch between $800 million and $1.2 billion, by far the most that any branch of the military has received for property sales.
About 3,700 acres of the 4,700-acre base, which closed in 1999, are still owned by the Navy, which plans to divide the land into four pieces and put them up for bid this summer. Buyers will be required to take all of each parcel, clean or contaminated. The tainted portions, however, could be sold with restrictions on future use or leased to new owners pending final cleanup.
Development on the base -- including 3,460 homes, two golf courses and 3 million square feet of office and industrial space -- has been planned for land already declared clean and ready for bulldozers.
Parks, open space and recreation areas are planned for land that is -- or is suspected to be -- contaminated, documents show. The new Navy report identifies 300 acres as contaminated; an additional 800 acres are affected by previously identified groundwater contamination.
Among the contaminated areas is a 6-acre site near the base runways where tests showed levels of TCE -- trichloroethylene, a solvent used to clean airplanes -- and a 9-acre former construction dump near 1,100 planned homes. The TCE site has been cleaned at the surface but still has underground pollution that must be treated, said Andrew Piszain, Navy environmental officer.
The Navy plans to use proceeds from the sale of El Toro to complete the cleanup and treat pollution at other military bases throughout the country.
Orange County voters passed a resolution last year calling on the Navy to completely clean the base before it is turned over for development. That desire must be honored, said Supervisor Bill Campbell, whose district includes Irvine.