Navy officials participated in a town hall meeting March 20 to inform Point Loma residents how the Navy plans to cleanup 500,000 to 1.5 million gallons of fuel that seeped into the ground beneath a fuel depot.
Since 1999, a significant amount of JP-5 and marine diesel fuel has seeped from three steel tanks at Naval Base Point Loma (NBPL), forming a plume on top of the water table nearly 50 feet underground.
The tanks are located aboveground in an area of the base designated as the Defense Fuel Support Point, which provides Defense Energy Support Center fuel to all local and surrounding military bases via pipeline networks, tankers and vessels. The fuel leaked through small holes that developed in the bottom of tanks that are more than 70 years old.
“From the beginning, we have worked with city, county and state officials on how to address this problem,” said Naval Base Point Loma Commanding Officer Capt. Mark Patton. “Once we learned that a section of the fuel plume had moved towards the government property line area, we felt it necessary to inform the public directly.”
More than 200 Point Loma residents gathered at the Point Loma Portuguese S.E.S. Hall to hear assessments of the fuel leakage and mitigation efforts from Navy, city and county representatives. Patton answered a variety of questions from the audience concerning the plume’s effect on Point Loma residents and NBPL employees, as well as possible impacts on the property values of Point Loma’s multimillion-dollar homes.
“As soon as we learned of the leak, we alerted all of the necessary leadership and started recovery of underground fuel product,” Patton said. “Our first concern has always been for the people who work on base and the people who live in the surrounding area.”
A toxicologist on the town hall meeting panel, Dr. Rudy Von Burg, ensured Point Loma residents and those who live and work on the base that they are not in danger of water contamination or other health risks.
Point Loma homeowner Rose Avila expressed her dissatisfaction with the Navy’s six-year delay organizing the town meeting, but also said some of her main concerns were laid to rest by the information presented.
“I am somewhat comforted by the information I heard. It was a good effort to hold this meeting, but I would have like to have known about this right after it happened,” said Avila. “It was the hearsay and the rumors started from newspaper articles that have bothered me until this point. I hope the Navy follows through with their promises and finishes the assessment and the cleanup, no matter what the cost.”
Patton could not provide an official date for the end of the cleanup due to the complexity of the project. However, he did say a military construction project that will replace all of the tanks should begin within the next two years. He also said updates will be given on a frequent basis and a follow-up town meeting will be held in the near future.
“We will do everything and anything to ensure that we recover the fuel and remediate the site, although that will take years,” said Patton.
By Journalist 3rd Class S. C. Irwin, Fleet Public Affairs Center, Pacific