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City Wins Millions for Toxic Cleanup

San Bernardino will get $69 million from Superfund for Camp Ono site, ending an 8-year legal struggle.

August 17, 2004|Janet Wilson | Times Staff Writer

San Bernardino will receive $69 million in Superfund money toward cleanup of contaminated groundwater left behind at an old military base that served as a World War II prisoner-of-war camp.

The agreement between the city, the Army, the Environmental Protection Agency and the California Department of Toxic Substances Control ends an eight-year legal battle by San Bernardino to get funds to clean up a vast underground plume of contaminants drifting south from the city's northwest corner toward drinking water supplies.

"It was a very tough situation," said James F. Penman, San Bernardino city attorney. "It lasted twice as long as the war that spawned it."

Camp Ono originally housed Italian POWs but was converted to a truck- and weapons-cleaning site where solvents later discovered to be toxic were used, he said.

Penman said Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Redlands) was instrumental in persuading federal agencies to find money and come to an agreement.

Superfund money is made up of contributions from industrial polluters across the country, according to an EPA spokeswoman.

The federal agency, which has been overseeing contractors performing the cleanup, also will receive $6.5 million from the fund.

But the $75.5-million package will only partially cover cleanup costs, officials said. For instance, the EPA already has spent $59 million on the site, which contains chlorinated solvents tetrachloroethylene (PCE) and trichloroethylene (TCE), probable carcinogens.

EPA spokeswoman Lisa Fasano said the agency is still investigating whether private companies or other agencies contributed to the pollution, and could seek additional funds from them.

Penman said the city won the right in the settlement to invest part of the funds and use the proceeds to build a series of barrier wells.

The consent agreement was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, Fasano said.

After a 30-day public comment period, it is expected to be signed by a judge.

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