2009-09-18 / Front Page

State, Boeing at impasse over cleanup plan

Company wants more legal protections
By Carissa Marsh cmarsh@theacorn.com

The largest property owner at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory has been left out of a newly drafted consent order that is to guide future cleanup at the site. And, if the disagreement between the state and The Boeing Co. is not resolved soon, the two sides could end up in court.

Since January, the state’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) has been in the process of amending an agreement between the parties responsible for the contamination at the field lab—a former rocket engine testing and nuclear research facility in the hills two miles south of Simi.

When the DTSC released the draft agreement for public review on Aug. 19, the Department of Energy and NASA were included in the new order. Boeing was not.

“It actually came as a surprise to us that we were not included in the draft order,” said Kamara Sams, "we weren’t notified that the order was going to be released.”

The consent order, which serves as a blueprint for the investigation and cleanup of the field lab, was first issued in August 2007. After the passage of Senate Bill 990 in October 2007, the DTSC—the lead agency overseeing the cleanup—decided to amend the agreement to incorporate the provisions of the new state law.

SB 990 requires that the field lab be cleaned to acceptable residential standards before its owners release rights to the 2,850-acre property to the state for parkland.

Sams said that during negotiations with the DTSC this year, Boeing and the state reached a consensus on the “substantive parts” of the order.

The sticking point, she said, was that Boeing wanted specific language included in the document that would give the company the same legal rights and protections afforded to the federal agencies.

“The inclusion of that language would not impact the implementation of a consent order at all,” Sams said.

At the same time the draft consent order was released, the DTSC announced that Rick Brausch would be assuming the position of field lab project director. The role was formerly held by Norm Riley, who, after being reassigned, decided to retire from state service.

Despite the change in leadership, Brausch said, the goal of the department hasn’t changed.

“The very purpose of the order is to make sure this site gets cleaned up to the standards that the legislature enacted and the governor signed into law,” he said.

Brausch acknowledged that Boeing and the state have come to an impasse over a particular part of the order, but he said he couldn’t discuss the details of the dispute due to a confidentiality agreement between the parties.

Brausch did say, however, that NASA and the DOE didn’t think the disagreement was “important or relevant” to them and that they indicated their willingness to move forward with the order to clean up their portions of the field lab.

“We decided to separate the parties for now,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that is a permanent situation.”

Brausch said it’s possible there will be two consent orders—one with NASA and the DOE and another with Boeing—and noted it’s not essential that all three be part of the same legal agreement.

Still, DTSC and Boeing must come to some kind of resolution, he said, since all the responsible parties will have to work together to accomplish the cleanup work.

Both sides said they are hopeful they can reach a resolution. If Boeing and the DTSC are unable to do that, the company may sue the state.

“It’s something that we hope we don’t have to consider because what we would like to do is remediate and then donate the site as protected open space, so it’s not something that we would like to have to do,” Sams said.

While he’s aware that Boeing could challenge SB 990 in court, Brausch said if that were the company’s intent, it would have done so already.

“We’re hoping to accomplish and negotiate a mutually acceptable resolution so we can avoid that,” he said. “Litigation ultimately means time spent in court and delays.”

If Boeing were to sue, there’s a deadline: two years from the date SB 990 was signed. That puts the expiration date at Oct. 14, leaving Boeing and the DSTC under a month to resolve their issues.

When asked if Boeing agrees with SB 990, Sams said the company believes the law is asking for more than what’s necessary.

“We’re cleaning it to levels way above and beyond the actual use of the site,” she said.

Depending on how the DTSC interprets the law, she said, more than 1 million cubic yards of soil might have to be removed from the site.

“You’d be talking about 15 trucks going up and down Woolsey Canyon from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. for the next 13 to 16 years,” she said.

The cleanup efforts already underway on site will not be affected by the disagreement between the two sides and will move forward under the 2007 consent order.

And while members of the community have expressed concern over the loss of Riley as project director, Brausch said the change in leadership wouldn’t derail the cleanup of the site.

“All the progress that’s been accomplished to date, we fully intend to keep that momentum,” he said.

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