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Publication Date: Friday, March 07, 2003

Pollution thwarts military housing plan Pollution thwarts military housing plan (March 07, 2003)

Cancer-causing gas from underground raises safety questions about site

By Candice Shih

Safety concerns at a contaminated Moffett Field housing area have led the Army to drop it from a redevelopment plan.

Last week, representatives from the Army Corps of Engineers and the private developer Clark Pinnacle described their plan for local military housing, which is in desperate need of repairs and additions. As part of a nationwide initiative to privatize military housing, the developer will build 86 new homes and rebuild 230 existing units at three Mountain View housing areas. A fourth, called Orion Park, was slated to be part of the plan. But over the past year, it has come to light that trichloroethene (TCE) -- a carcinogenic solvent in ground water beneath the housing area -- may be evaporating into homes and outdoor air around them.

"If the Navy and [Environmental Protection Agency] can finally tell us there is no credible environmental threat anymore, we can put that back in the process," said Major Jeff Cooper of the Army Corps of Engineers. The contamination's health risks are uncertain, making it potentially unsafe to add new housing even though Orion, at 75 acres, is the largest of all the sites, he added. Orion Park currently houses dozens of military families. TCE has also been found in small amounts in part of another area, known as Wescoat, but 60 new homes will be built there Wescoat and at the adjacent Berry Court. "Environmental issues are a concern for the entire area," wrote Sarah White, leader of the housing project with the Army's Residential Communities Initiative (RCI), in an e-mail. "However, we do not believe that contamination at Wescoat will preclude development." White did not say whether concerns about legal liability for health problems affected the decision to omit Orion Park. But as the Voice reported on Feb. 7, an official from Clark Pinnacle, the developer teaming up with the Army on the project, said that the environmental issues could affect financing of the project as well as legal liability.

City council member Rosemary Stasek said there was not very much potential for building at Orion Park, and that another site -- Shenandoah, which is located off the base, at the corner of Moffett Boulevard and Middlefield Road -- is a more likely place for new housing. The Shenandoah site currently has a vacant six-acre parcel which the city has expressed interest in using over recent years. However, the Army now plans for 45 new units to be built there. Clark Pinnacle has leased the site from the Army for 50 years, although the city hopes to eventually take control. White and other RCI representatives will be invited to either the March 18 or March 25 council meeting. Stasek hopes to communicate three points to them: 1) develop the new housing to city code; 2) decide who's eligible for housing not used by military; and 3) when the entire project is not being used by the military, treat the private residents like others in the city. "It's really fairness and consistency that I'm after," she said.

E-mail Candice Shih at


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