Rare bird, per­mits de­lay Whit­taker cleanup

Multi-ju­ris­dic­tional task force sets up reg­u­lar meet­ing on clean­ing ef­forts, of­fi­cials say

The Signal - - Front page - By Jim Holt Sig­nal Se­nior Staff Writer

Cit­ing ev­i­dence of a bird hardly any­one ever sees and deal­ing with per­mit pa­per­work they see all too much of, of­fi­cials su­per­vis­ing the cleanup of the Whit­taker-Ber­mite site said their year-end cleanup tar­get date has now been pushed into 2019.

How far into this year will the cleanup of nearly 1,000 acres at the heart of the Santa Clarita Val­ley take?

City of Santa Clarita of­fi­cials re­vealed this week that the multi-ju­ris­dic­tional task force has sched­uled reg­u­lar meet­ings on the cleanup through­out the year un­til Novem­ber 2019.

The task force in­cludes all stake­hold­ers in the pro­ject such as: the city of Santa Clarita, SCV Wa­ter Agency, the Cal­i­for­nia De­part­ment of Toxic Sub­stances Con­trol, and Meg­gitt-USA Inc., rep­re­sent­ing the Whit­taker Corp.

Task force meet­ings are sched­uled March 6, July 10 and Nov. 13, each date be­ing a Wednes­day be­tween 3 and 5 p.m., in the Cen­tury Con­fer­ence Room at Santa Clarita City Hall.

At each of the last few multi-ju­ris­dic­tional meet­ings, cleanup of­fi­cials con­fi­dently pro­jected the cleanup could be com­pleted by Dec. 31, 2018.

Asked this week if the cleanup on Whit­taker Ber­mite was com­plete, the an­swer was “no.”

“But, we are mak­ing steady progress to­ward com­ple­tion,” said Has­san Amini, pro­ject man­ager with the cleanup firm Amec Foster Wheeler.

Year-end was the tar­get cleanup date un­til cleanup crews hit a snag when a bi­ol­o­gist found a nest be­long­ing to the threat­ened Cal­i­for­nia gnat­catcher.

With that dis­cov­ery, bull­doz­ers ground to a halt, work stopped and the com­ple­tion date was pushed back.

“We had pro­jected that most of the soil cleanup ac­tiv­i­ties would be com­pleted by the end of 2018,” Amini said.

“The gnat­catcher sight­ing and per­mit de­lays have af­fected our com­ple­tion date,” he said, cit­ing frustrating ef­forts to ob­tain per­mits from var­i­ous agen­cies in­clud­ing the De­part­ment of Fish and Wildlife,

“We should be able to com­plete our soil re­me­di­a­tion work within the first three to four months of this new year, if we do not en­counter an in­tense rainy spring,” he said.

Once the cleanup is done, the 996 hilly acres at the cen­ter of the city could be­come a site for po­ten­tial de­vel­op­ment or use as open space, or some com­bined use.

“Tech­ni­cally, once the soil cleanup is done to DTSC’s sat­is­fac­tion and ap­proval, there should be no en­vi­ron­men­tal haz­ard or re­stric­tion for the pub­lic,” Amini said.

“The phys­i­cal haz­ards, such as steep slopes, un­even grounds, wildlife, snakes, ticks…etc., will be the re­main­ing haz­ards, just like any un­de­vel­oped prop­erty,” he said. “How­ever, be­ing a pri­vate prop­erty, ac­cess to the prop­erty needs to be ob­tained from the prop­erty owner.”

The Cal­i­for­nia gnat­catcher, ac­cord­ing to en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists manning the web­site Paloverdes.com, is a song­bird about 4 inches long that sur­vives in coastal sage scrub habi­tats in Cal­i­for­nia.

They are highly ter­ri­to­rial and mate for life. Once paired, gnat­catch­ers do not nor­mally mi­grate be­yond a 1- to 2-acre ter­ri­tory all year.

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