State budget cuts could slow Moffett cleanup

The Navy has yet to clean up miles of underground piping at Moffett Field, as well as dozens of underground storage tanks once used to hold oil and fuel for war planes and the USS Macon airship. Now the state regulator in charge of overseeing the cleanup faces the ax due to state budget cuts.

There was shock among members of the Moffett Restoration Advisory Board at its meeting last Thursday when Elizabeth Wells, regulator with the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, announced her pending layoff. She says she recently received a letter from the state that referred to her as "surplus." The letter apparently means Wells is likely to lose her job, though it isn't certain.

Lenny Siegel, director for the Center for Public Environmental Oversight, says layoff would likely mean that Wells, a Stanford-educated civil engineer with 12 years of experience, would be replaced by someone with less knowledge of, and time allotted for, Moffett Field.

According to a report Wells gave last November, there are 37 underground petroleum tanks that have yet to be closed. The federal Environmental Protection Agency is responsible for cleaning up most toxics at the Moffett superfund site, but superfund law leaves petroleum to Wells' state agency, commonly known as just the Water Board.

Wells has also partnered with the Federal EPA to clean several other portions of the superfund site, which has contaminated groundwater.

"The concerted effort and voice by the two agencies, in my opinion, has been a powerful tool in moving things forward," said Peter Strauss, a technical advisor at the Center for Public Environmental Oversight. Site 26, a large toxic groundwater plume east of the Moffett runway, "is a good example where they sent a joint letter to the Navy requiring the startup of the East Side Aquifer Treatment System, which led to the Navy moving ahead with an alternative," he said.

Siegel added that it would be within the Navy's interest that Wells stay, as it would mean a quicker clean-up process.


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