Mountain View Voice

News - November 16, 2007

Army: No impact for Orion project

Environmentalists and federal agencies trade words over traffic and cleanup

by Daniel DeBolt

The Moffett Field Restoration Advisory Board met last Thursday in the midst of a whirlwind of discussions about development at Moffett, including the 213-acre NASA Research Park and the possible announcement in December about the future of Hangar One.

But nothing sparked more intense discussion than the Army's "Mitigated Finding of No Significant Impact" — a report on Orion Park, just outside the Moffett main gate, where the Army intends to build a new command and reserve training center.

To do so, the Army will demolish 450 now-vacant military homes there and build a 270,000-square-foot training facility, but no new housing. That should be no problem, according to the report, because the project will have "no significant impact" despite such long-debated issues as traffic congestion and cleanup of trichloroethylene. The Army says the project must be completed by 2011 under federal law.

Environmentalists at the meeting were not impressed with the plans, and continued to press the Army to address increased traffic and the trichloroethylene, or TCE, pollution in the groundwater that no one wants to clean up.

"We're going the extra step to protect the future occupants and users of those buildings," said Army spokesperson John Love, referring to vapor barriers, ventilation systems and the possible 24-hour monitoring of air in the new buildings. TCE is a known carcinogen and has been measured at unsafe levels in vacant homes at Orion.

"We're in a redevelopment situation," Love said. "We're not really in the lead as a cleanup agency. We're working with the EPA — that's an ongoing effort."

The discussion turned to who was originally responsible for the TCE pollution. That argument has been going on for years, causing tension between NASA and the Navy, which is often thought to be legally responsible. Navy spokesperson Darren Newton caused a stir with his comments Thursday.

"The federal government does not believe there is an on-site source," Newton said.

Protests immediately flew up from the part of the room where representatives from another federal agency — the EPA — were sitting.

"Whoa, whoa! Wait — DOD might believe that," came a chorus of comments from EPA officials. (By "DOD," they were referring to the Department of Defense, which governs Army activities.)

NASA, for its part, has said the TCE came from buildings on the site decades ago, which would put the onus for cleanup on the Navy.

To nail down the source once and for all, the EPA is seeking funding to study a possible source across Highway 101 in the Leong Drive and Moffett Boulevard area known as the "vector control yard." But according to Lenny Siegel, an expert on groundwater contamination and director of the Center for Public Environmental Oversight, the yard is unlikely to be the source. That's because the highest concentrations of TCE are at Orion Park, and Siegel says he's never seen a plume move the way the Navy asserts this one has.

It's "an ongoing battle," said RAB co-chair Bob Moss, "The Navy has been saying it [the TCE] is coming from somewhere else — it's coming from across 101, it's coming from outer space. Everybody else is saying, 'Prove it.'"

As for the Army's plans for Orion Park, Siegel said they will exacerbate Mountain View's jobs-to-housing imbalance, putting more people in cars on nearby roads, including Highway 101, which was described as a "a parking lot" during rush hour.

"Your people are going to be stuck in traffic, too, because they aren't going to be able to live on-base," Siegel told Army representatives.

"The local community is working hard to get people out of their cars," added one resident.

The Army responded by saying that many of the command center's 413 employees already live nearby, and that the 735 reservists who will visit on weekends won't add to rush hour traffic. Siegel asked them to document the issue in more detail.

To help alleviate traffic, some said they wanted a Stevens Creek Trail connection to the area which would connect commuters from the Shoreline industrial area and numerous residential areas to a burgeoning Moffett Field.

But what Siegel wants even more is for the Army to "meet with NASA, the Navy and the EPA to come up with a strategy for cleanup," he said Tuesday. Also, "I would like them to meet with the city of Mountain View to discuss traffic."

Siegel said the Army's project at Orion is illegal under the National Environmental Protection Act. He said the Army had not studied an appropriate alternative — the only alternative listed was to not build the project.

In its defense, Love said the Army has incorporated many recommendations from the RAB, including a buffer along the creek and mitigations for dealing with TCE-contaminated soil during construction.

E-mail Daniel DeBolt at


Posted by Ernest Thurlow, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jan 7, 2009 at 10:55 pm

HI - Would it be possible to seed the ground water with a dye or something that could be traced?

Thank you


Posted by Ernest Thurlow, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jan 7, 2009 at 10:55 pm

HI - Would it be possible to seed the ground water with a dye or something that could be traced?

Thank you


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