Paperwork stalling last days of the Whittaker-Bermite cleanup

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

Stakeholders in the cleanup of close to 1,000 acres of contaminated land at Whittaker-Bermite expressed delight Wednesday at meeting a year-end deadline but were frustrated over having to wait for state permits needed for last-minute work.

A multi-jurisdictional meeting in which each stakeholder involved in the cleanup weighs in on the status of soil, air and water decontamination efforts unfolded for one of the final times at Santa Clarita City Hall on Wednesday afternoon in the Century Conference Room.

“We are 85 percent complete, and I’m very very happy to tell you that,” said Hassan Amini, project manager with the cleanup firm Amec Foster Wheeler, pointing to an overhead map of the Whittaker-Bermite site.

Amini shared with the dozen or so meeting attendees and stakeholders his frustration waiting for permits from the Department of Fish and Wildlife and from the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board.

When the going got tough and red tape began stalling cleanup workers poised to perform last-minute work, Amini called the state representative overseeing the project.

Jose Diaz, senior project manager for the Department of Toxic Substances Control, who has been overseeing the cleanup for several years, made a call to a “sister agency” and managed to get some of the paperwork placed on the fast track.

In his update, Diaz said the cleanup operation was entering a new operation and management phase — which essentially involves managing the 996 acres of Whittaker-Bermite land once it’s been officially deemed clean.

“This marks a fairly significant milestone in our progress,” he said.

“There have been some snags,” he said, “with the permitting process.”

Diaz said he’s been waiting for a permit to remove the trash collected on the Whittaker-Bermite site and take it to a nearby landfill.

Eric G. Lardiere, senior vice president for Meggitt-USA Inc., which owns Whittaker Corp., described the holdup of elusive permits as “hiccups” in the process.

“We’re pretty much done,” he said. “As far as the progress is concerned, we’re on time and within budget.

“There have been some hiccups with the regional water board. We’ve waited six to nine months and they’re still not granted. That’s what is holding up the landfill excavation.”

“The permitting process does hold up the actual work,” he said.

Since 1983, stakeholders have been waiting to report on the final days of cleanup. And, there’s been a lot to clean up.

Dynamite was manufactured there in the mid-’30s by the Los Angeles Powder Co.

In 1936, the Halifax Explosives Co. moved in and spent the next six years making fireworks.

After that, according to research conducted by the Toxic Substances Department, E.P. Halliburton Inc. reportedly began making oil field explosives at the site.

Coated magnesium flash flares and other photoflash devices used in the Vietnam War were manufactured by the Bermite Powder Co.

Between 1942 and 1967, the company also made detonators, fuses and stabilized red phosphorous.

The Whittaker Corp. carried on the explosive tradition, making ammunition rounds, boosters, more flares, more detonators, signal cartridges, glow plugs (used to heat the combustion chamber of diesel engines in cold conditions), tracer and pyrophoric pellets (fragments that spark spontaneously), igniters, ignition compositions, explosive bolts (designed to separate cleanly along a set fracture), powder charges, rocket motors, gas generators and missile parts.

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