2016-05-13 / Front Page

Phase two of demolition underway at Santa Susana Field Laboratory

Test stand structures may be saved
By Melissa Simon

HISTORIC STRUCTURE—COCA Test Stand, NASA Area II at Santa Susana Field Lab. 
MICHAEL COONS/Acorn Newspapers HISTORIC STRUCTURE—COCA Test Stand, NASA Area II at Santa Susana Field Lab. MICHAEL COONS/Acorn Newspapers The second round of demolition is well underway at the Santa Susana Field Lab, and NASA officials expect to complete the phase by summer 2017.

The razing is part of the ongoing cleanup efforts at the former rocket engine test site in the southern hills of Simi Valley.

Peter Zorba, SSFL project director for NASA, said demolition began in late February in the “Skyline area,” located in the southwest portion of Area II, which belongs to the federal government.

About 20 remaining structures just outside of the historic Alfa, Bravo and Coca rocket test sites, which each contain two test stands and supporting facilities, will be taken down.

“We’ve made great progress with our soil and groundwater investigations, and the progress we’re making with demolition is impressive,” Zorba said. “NASA remains committed to meeting our obligations for the remediation of the areas of Santa Susana Field Laboratory under our control and achieving a cleanup that is protective of public health and the environment.”

Phase one of NASA’s demolition, also in Area II of the field lab, began in 2014. The phase included takedown of the service areas on the northern part of the site and the Delta test site, where large liquid propulsion systems were tested in the 1960s. That work, Zorba said, was completed in December.

The third phase, which is expected to begin in spring 2017, will include the demolition and disposal of ancillary and support buildings within the Alfa, Bravo and Coca test sites, Zorba said. But the actual test stands and a few other facilities deemed historic will not be taken down.

The 2,850-acre field lab has been used since 1947 as a nuclear test site and for research in the development of ballistic missiles, rockets and space shuttle equipment.

Boeing Co. owns nearly 80 percent of the site, including Area IV, where a partial nuclear meltdown occurred in 1959. The remaining 20 percent, including all of Area II and part of Area I, belongs to the federal government.

Cleanup efforts at the field lab began in 2010, with NASA overseeing the federal government’s portion of the site, and the U.S. Department of Energy and Department of Toxic Substances Control managing Boeing’s portion. National monument petition

Last year, West Hills activist Christina Walsh began circulating a petition on change.org to preserve the historic Alfa, Bravo, Coca and Delta test stands in Area II.

The Alfa test area, which operated from 1955 to 2006, supported the first unmanned space flight program, Mercury, in 1961 and includes the oldest stand on the property used for rocket engine testing.

Operating from 1956 to 2005, the Bravo test area was used to support the development of the F-1 engine, five of which were used to boost the Saturn V rocket during the Apollo program in the 1960s and 1970s.

Walsh’s petition, which asks President Barack Obama to designate the field lab as a national monument, also seeks to protect the Burro Flats painted cave, which features Chumash paintings that are believed to be thousands of years old.

Thus far, the online petition has garnered 1,350 signatures in support of preservation.

In January, the California Native American Heritage Commission sent a letter to the state Department of the Interior supporting the national monument designation.

California is currently home to 164 Native American tribes, but there are only two national monuments that presently include “sites of significance to Native American culture,” James Ramos, chair of the heritage commission, wrote in the letter.

“Should this (national monument) proposal be approved, it would be an important step forward toward recognizing and protecting culturally significant historical sites of importance to Native Americans,” Ramos wrote.

In July 2015, Zorba said, NASA deferred demolition of all historic test stands to allow the federal government time to consider the petition.

“Based on the data we have today, NASA believes it may be possible to retain test stand structures and still meet the (cleanup) requirements,” he said. “Ultimately, (the Department of Toxic Substances Control) must approve all cleanup actions.”

The DTSC’s final environmental impact report, a state-issued document outlining the remediation responsibilities of Boeing, NASA and the Department of Energy at the field lab, is expected to be released sometime this fall.

While NASA waits for the report, Zorba said, the goal is to complete the soil and groundwater investigations, which he anticipates will be done this summer.

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