Fact Sheet: Military Base Closure, Cleanup, and Reuse
Revised: Revised October 2000
Contact: Mr. Stan Phillippe, Dept. of Toxic Substances Control at (916) 255-3750
With the end of the 40 year cold war in 1988, United States spending on defense-related employment,infrastructure, research and development began a steady and significant decline. Congress passed the Base Realignment and Closure Act (BRAC) in 1988 which appointed four rounds of independent BRAC commissions to recommend surplus and obsolete military bases for realignment and closure. Since 1988, the federal government has decided to close 29 major California bases and several smaller installations in 1988, 1991, 1993, and 1995. Closure of the 29 major bases reduces the State's economy by $9 billion annually and results in the direct and indirect losses of 200,000 jobs; consequentially, the base closures will ultimately make available 77,269 acres of unsubdivided land for industrial, commercial, recreational, educational, and residential uses. Most military bases contain extensive areas of toxic contamination that must be cleaned up to protect California's environment and allow the fullest possible reuse of the bases. The California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal/EPA) oversees the investigation and cleanup of toxic contamination at the state's military bases and works directly with the United States Department of Defense (DoD) and, at some bases, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) to ensure that all cleanup work meets environmental regulatory standards. Cal/EPA's mission is to protect human health and the environment from threats posed by toxic contamination while facilitating the reuse and property transfer of these closed military facilities. * The Office of Military Facilities within the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) has lead responsibility for regulatory oversight of the military's cleanup program.
Until the late 1970s, there were few laws regulating the disposal of hazardous waste by private industry and the military. Many handling and disposal practices that were common in the past are illegal today. Hazardous wastes were routinely placed in the ground, where they contaminated the soil and groundwater. The military currently must comply with all federal and state hazardous waste laws. Virtually all contamination at the bases stems from activities that took place before 1980. Much of the contamination is similar to that found at civilian industrial facilities that operated before modern environmental laws took effect. Given the number of federal, state, and local organizations involved in base closure and reuse issues, the importance of interagency coordination cannot be overstated. This Fact Sheet provides information about the cleanup and reuse of military bases.
How Much Will Base Cleanup Cost?
The estimated cost of cleaning up the bases changes continuously as new information is obtained about contamination. Inflation and other economic factors also will cause cost estimates to change over time. As of 1997, the estimated cost of remediating toxic contamination at California's 29 closing bases is $6.5 billion. Estimates for individual bases range from $10 million to as high as $832 million or more. These estimates reflect the high cost of studying, excavating, transporting, treating, and disposing of contaminated soil and groundwater. Moreover, cost estimates are expected to increase on some bases as the full extent of contamination is determined and the cost of cleanup equipment and labor increases due to inflation and other factors.
Who Will Clean Up the Bases?
DoD is legally responsible for remedying the contamination at military bases to the extent necessary to protect future property users and the environment. Closure of a base does not affect DoD's cleanup responsibilities. DoD is also responsible for contamination that has spread beyond a base's boundaries. DoD pays for all investigative and cleanup work as well as state oversight. Federal law also requires DoD to release all reuse entities from liability for contamination resulting from military activities. If any such contamination is discovered after a parcel has been transferred to a reuse entity, DoD remains responsible for any necessary cleanup work.
How Long Will the Cleanups Take?
The investigation and cleanup of toxic contamination is a complex process. Sampling and analysis of soil and groundwater, often over large areas, is necessary before an effective long-term cleanup plan can be developed. Complicated site conditions require detailed planning to ensure that sampling and analysis work determines the full nature and extent of the contamination. A base wide investigation can take five to ten years, or longer to complete. Cleanup work can vary greatly in length of time and complexity. A small scale excavation of contaminated soil can be completed within a few days. At the other extreme, a full groundwater cleanup can take 20 years or more requiring an intricate network of wells, pumps, and treatment equipment to remove contaminants from the groundwater.
When Can Reuse of Closing Bases Take Place?
Reuse of clean parcels can occur as soon as an interested user obtains the necessary approvals from the appropriate local city or county government. The Environmental Baseline Survey enables clean parcels to be identified and made available for reuse immediately. Cal/EPA also is encouraging the early cleanup of mildly contaminated parcels so that those parcels can be reused while cleanup continues on more heavily contaminated parcels. Additionally, Cal/EPA has reached an understanding with the federal government to allow, in most cases, the reuse of lands overlying contaminated groundwater after cleanup work has begun. Groundwater contamination normally does not threaten the health of people living or working on the surface (although cleanup work is important for long-term protection of water supplies and ecological habitats).
How Can I Participate in the Cleanup and Reuse Process?
Cal/EPA encourages the public to participate in decisions involving the cleanup of closing bases. Active public involvement helps ensure that cleanup and reuse decisions benefit the public to the greatest possible extent. Interested community groups and individuals can become involved with the Restoration Advisory Boards that have been established at most closing bases. Each board consists of representatives from DoD, Cal/EPA, U.S. EPA and the local community. The boards work with federal and state cleanup managers on cleanup issues. Board meetings are held regularly and are open to the public. Fact sheets, reports, and technical documents related to cleanup of a base are available for public viewing at an information repository (often a public library) on or near each base. Cal/EPA has assigned a public participation specialist to each base. Public participation specialists can answer questions, disseminate fact sheets, organize community meetings when needed, and alert Cal/EPA management to issues raised by community members.
For a complete list of the California BRAC Bases and the contact person, please call Cal/EPA Communications Office at (916) 324-9670.