By Ken Dean and Rick Drew: A hidden gem in our valley

The view from the top of the Whittaker-Bermite site shows Entrance Valley that includes many old buildings -- some from the munitions factory, others just movie props. KATHARINE LOTZE/Signal 07102014

Wouldn’t it be pleasant to travel between Canyon Country and southwest Newhall in a matter of 10 minutes instead of half an hour? Crawling through traffic, you have probably said to yourself 100 times, “This city needs more roads.” But where?

In the middle of our city lies a large open area of land. But what lies dormant on this property are toxins, contaminants and chemicals. Do we build our roads on top of toxins?

That property is like an uncut jewel in need of polishing, or if you will, a large swath of land in the process of being decontaminated.

The 996-acre former Whittier-Bermite property located at 22116 Soledad Canyon Road has been out of bounds to the public for as long as most can remember. Many people do not understand why there are unavailable hills and open space in the middle of our city. A vast majority of people are not aware that Santa Clarita Valley’s groundwater is being treated for a salt contaminant, perchlorate, that can reduce human thyroid production, potentially harming young children and fetuses.

Going back 80 years to the 1930s, the Whittaker-Bermite property was used to manufacture and test various explosives. Dynamite was manufactured on the property in the 1930s. The Halifax Explosives Company spent six years making fireworks there.

Between 1942 and 1967, stabilized red phosphor was made and tested on the Whittaker-Bermite property, along with rocket motors, missile parts and other explosives. During the Vietnam War coated magnesium flash flares, along with other photoflash devices, were made and tested there.

Let’s look at the effects of 80 years of manufacturing and testing at the site. Byproducts including perchlorate and hazardous solvents would be left on the ground or buried in it. Years of storms, sometimes bringing days of heavy rain, would pull the contaminants and toxins deep into the ground – no one knows just how deep.

Think of Hinkley, California, the subject of the 2000 movie “Erin Brockovich,” based on the chromium found in that desert city’s drinking water. Watch the movie, which might shine some light on the contamination of land.

The cleanup of the 996-acre property has been under way since 1994. Opportunities at the site are vast when the cleanup is complete. The property has been divided into sections identified as “Operable Units” and worked separately. Operable Unit 1, or OU1, has been completed, requiring evacuation of 695,000 cubic yards and treatment of 435,000 cubic yards.

OU5 is very near being certified complete, requiring evacuation of 188,000 cubic yards and treatment of 164,000 cubic yards. OU2 and OU4 have evacuated 380,000 cubic yards, treated 335,000 cubic yards and have an additional 790,000 cubic yards remaining to be treated with a completion date of summer next year.

OU7 requires the treatment of groundwater and is expected to continue through the next 30-plus years.

In charge of the extended environmental cleanup is the state Department of Toxic Substances Control, a division of the California Environmental Protection Agency. Jose Diaz is project manager for the ambitious site cleanup. He has been quoted saying cleanup of the soil and vapor at the site will be completed by the end of 2018. The soil cleanup will be to a depth of 40 feet, Diaz said.

But what if the contamination extends 50 or 60 feet into the ground?

Going back many years, there has been a lot of flip-flop rhetoric about the Whittaker-Bermite site and its potential. The most recent forecast for completion has been 2018, but another forecast has said 2020. Which is it?

First and foremost must be the health of our citizens, children and the elderly. Most recently Diaz said by the end of 2018, “We’ll be able to pursue pretty much every facet of Santa Clarita Valley living on the site.”

“People will be able to jog there, dine, work and open a business. Whittaker-Bermite, once cleaned, will be suitable for commercial development, restaurants, parks, schools, recreation,” Diaz said.

There will be areas, however, unavailable for development, he has said. The Los Angeles Aquaduct runs across the property, as does the San Gabriel Fault, which runs from the southeast to the northwest part of the property.

Some areas are expected to be deemed too polluted for any development. The designated Whittaker-Bermite site, however, encompasses 996 acres, and a relatively small percentage of that was touched by toxins.

Is this an area for much-needed roads to traverse the Santa Clarita Valley? Absolutely. The General Plan shows Santa Clarita Parkway, Golden Valley Road, Magic Mountain Parkway and Via Princessa crossing the property.

Is this an area for a school, homes, businesses, where people will walk their dog or where children will play? That’s debatable. Many people are skeptical because way down deep in the bowels of the soil, toxins may still lurk.

The Advocates of SCV goal is to bring together civic-minded individuals who will advocate on issues important to the Santa Clarita Valley and to expand community awareness and citizen involvement. Ken Dean, a former member of the City Formation Commission, and Rick Drew, chairman of the Citizens Advisory Committee for the Whittaker-Bermite site, are both Canyon Country residents.


Related To This Story

Latest NEWS