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CALIFORNIA

County Boosts Field Lab Testing

A new law requires builders planning homes near Rocketdyne site in the Simi Hills to check for contaminants.

August 04, 2004|Amanda Covarrubias | Times Staff Writer

Ventura County supervisors approved an ordinance Tuesday requiring home developers to test for contaminants before building within two miles of the Rocketdyne field lab in the Simi Hills.

The ordinance was approved on a 3-2 vote over the objections of defense contractor Boeing, which owns the site, and Supervisors Judy Mikels and Kathy Long.

The critics said the ordinance was unnecessary because state and federal regulatory agencies already require extensive testing and the action would stigmatize neighborhoods surrounding the 2,700-acre Santa Susana Field Laboratory.

But Supervisor Linda Parks, who proposed the ordinance, said it would provide neighbors and potential home buyers with another level of security.

"I think it will prove useful to give developers a clean bill of health," Parks said during the 1 1/2 -hour debate over the ordinance that at times appeared to be doomed. "I think it's a responsible thing to do to know before we allow a housing developer to build there that the land isn't contaminated."

The ordinance will require housing developers to test for perchlorate and trichloroethylene within a two-mile radius of the rocket-testing lab. Perchlorate, the main ingredient in rocket fuel, has been detected in wells in Simi Valley and near the Ahmanson and Runkle ranches.

Heavy deposits of trichloroethylene have been found in soil and groundwater at the hilltop lab, where the solvent was used from 1954 to 1993 to clean rocket engines and test machinery.

Rocketdyne, which was later bought by Boeing, has tested rocket engines at the lab since the 1950s, and the federal government tested nuclear reactors there until the late 1980s.

Boeing continues to occasionally fire rockets from the field lab but plans to close the lab after a multimillion-dollar cleanup is completed.

The ordinance will require housing developers to test groundwater samples from two sites. Soil testing will be required at five sites.

"We're disappointed," said Steve Lafflam, who oversees Rocketdyne's safety, health and environmental division. "We think the proposal creates a stigma for neighbors and is unnecessary and inappropriate. It says that all the regulations set up by state and federal agencies are not adequate."

At times the measure appeared headed for failure Tuesday as Supervisor John Flynn said he would not support it without two amendments: decreasing the testing radius to 1.5 miles and excluding the nearby Brandeis-Bardin Institute, a Jewish educational and spiritual retreat. But Supervisor Steve Bennett said he could not support an amended measure without studying the implications, and Mikels, who represents the Rocketdyne area, suggested the idea either be continued to a later date or killed.

"To me this is an exercise in dominance and harassment of this facility," Mikels said afterward. "They [Boeing] are good corporate neighbors, they are cleaning it up. The feds haven't decided yet what the level of danger is, but we have? The main thing behind this is hysteria and some phantom agenda."

Longtime Rocketdyne foe and anti-nuclear activist Dan Hirsch said his only agenda was to protect the public health from toxic pollution. "This is a sea change," Hirsch said after the vote. "They were willing to support it even if they had to cross the supervisor who represents the area."

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