Whittaker site ready to develop by late 2018

Signal file photo Empty dump trucks pull into a soil treatment area to pick up clean dirt as viewed on tour of the cleanup efforts of the Whittaker-Bermite site in Valencia in October 2016. Dan Watson/The Signal

In the Great Depression, manufacturers made and exploded dynamite on the Whittaker-Bermite site.

At the start of the Second World War, they made and set off fireworks there. Then they made old field explosives.

By the end of the War, it was flares, bombs and explosives, and with the Whittaker Corporation, rockets, flares and igniters.

And, now, according to the calculations of the man who spent the last 30 years monitoring the decontamination of close to 1,000 contaminated acres, SCV residents will be able by the end of next year, to jog there, fly kites there, dine, work and open up a business in the heart of the SCV.

By the end of 2018, we’ll be able to pursue pretty much every facet of SCV living on the site, all but one – living there.

Whittaker-Bermite, once cleaned, will be suitable for commercial development, restaurants, parks, schools, recreation and open space.  The only structure that cannot be built there are homes.

Jose Diaz, project manager of the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, a division of the state Environmental Protection Agency, said Wednesday the cleanup of soil, vapor and water on the 996 acres of Whittaker-Bermite is on track to be completed by the end of next year.

Although he is not authorized to reflect on possible development of the area once it’s cleaned, Diaz in his capacity to sign-off on the cleanup once its deemed healthy for citizens to be there, said more than half the area will be OK to develop for most non-residential purposes.

“At least 500 acres will be able to be developed,” Diaz said Wednesday.

With the cleanup end in sight, Whittaker has recently doubled its cleaning efforts, Diaz said.

“Recently, Whittaker decided ‘We’re going to increase the amount of soil being treated – excavated and treated.’ So, they’re doubling their efforts,” he said.

“They’re going to treat more soil, and they’re adding more treatment cells, so essentially doubling, to speed up the process.”

And, as the massive cleanup comes to a close, the SCV experience will find its place in history, Diaz said, as the largest environmental cleanup of perchlorate contamination in the state and, quite possibly, in the country.

Once all the planning was done and shovels went into the ground, cleanup crews decontaminated 225 acres of toxic soil between 2005 and 2009, excavating and treating more than 435,000 cubic yards of dirty dirt.

The six years that followed that initial phase, at least 771 additional acres were cleaned, with more than one million cubic yards excavated and treated.

In terms of scooping up contaminated soil, at least 188,000 cubic yards were scooped up and treated by 2015.  An additional 868,290 acres scooped up and treated.

And, with regards to cleaning perchlorate-contaminated groundwater, the newly-completed Saugus Aquifer Treatment Plant which was tested earlier this month, is expected to pump and treat water extracted from 14 wells at a rate of 500 gallons a minute.

The cleaned water, according to the plan, will be discharged into the Santa Clara River watershed to recharge SCV’s groundwater.

Perchlorate, a byproduct of rocket making, has been shown to interfere with the uptake of iodide by the thyroid gland and to thereby reduce the production of thyroid hormones, leading to adverse effects associated with inadequate hormone levels.

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