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Feb-20-2009 07:25printcomments

Why the Navy Wants to Conduct Operations Off Oregon

Drawing a line between the fate of the El Toro Marine air base and the proposal to conduct Naval operations on Oregon's coastline.

Marine air bases, Navy air base and Oregon coast
Photos from lower left corner clockwise, represent the locations in this story; the now-closed El Toro Marine Air Station, the Marine air station at Mirimar, the Navy Air station at Fallon, Nevada, and the pristine Oregon coast.

(SALEM, Ore.) - I think Sherlock Holmes would be a good consultant on this one; but in his absence I'll take a stab at delivering my theory on why the Navy suddenly wants to bring a military presence to the Oregon coast.

Our regular readers know that Salem-News.com writers have been covering the TCE (trichloroethylene) contamination of the old El Toro Marine Corps air base in Southern California since just before last summer. It is a place where I was stationed for more than two years as a Marine in the 1980's.

TCE contamination causes liver failure, several types of cancer, lower intestinal problems and mutations in children of those affected.

One thing I will attempt to do in this article is demonstrate the likelihood that the closure of El Toro was not part of a logical process to save taxpayer money.

It certainly wasn't closed down to protect the Marines serving there amidst the contamination; in fact to this day the government drags its feet over even notifying veterans that they may want to at least advise their family doctor of the TCE-related history.

In fact it appears that the closure of the Marine base was financially-motivated by Orange County developers who wanted to build houses and a park on the base, and that the untimely closure of this stratigic military location is what has actually led to the Navy knocking on Oregon's door.

Some History

The Marine Corps Air Station at El Toro was built during WWII. For several decades, the highly toxic chemical degreaser TCE was used to clean Marine jet fighters and then, ultimately, dumped into the groundwater.

This serious environmental problem was "discovered" many years after the damage was done. Apparently some precautions were taken and Marines had stopped "officially" using TCE by the late 1980's/early 1990's.

Then in 1997 something unusual began taking place. Marine aircraft suddenly began using alternate flight patterns that caused them to take off and land over the roofs of Orange County homes.

El Toro's flight patterns were specifically designed never to have planes flying over houses, but in 1997 something changed, and the jets were suddenly roaring overhead, and the people didn't like it.

Christopher Cox, the 28th Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, a person with strong ties to Orange County's richest businesses, is connected to the highest levels of U.S. federal government since serving on the staff of Ronald Reagan.

The wife of this Republican legislator was actually on the BRAC Committee (Base Realignment and Closure) and sources tell Salem-News.com that she was the person to initially nominate El Toro for the closure's 'hit list'.

The base contamination was becoming an issue at this point, and the EPA placed El Toro on the base on the Superfund List the year it closed, in 1999.

The Navy decided to sell El Toro. The Marines packed up and headed for Miramar in Southern California; AKA "Fightertown USA". What Marine wouldn't want to displace the sailors from the coolest base in San Diego County? This is the base where the movie Top Gun was based.

The Navy, profiting from the sale of the El Toro Marine base, moved its planes from Miramar to Fallon, Nevada. Along with many others, I thought at the time, "The Navy? The Nevada desert?"

Along with the Navy went the famous Top Gun fighter weapons school... to the landlocked state of Nevada. What good Navy man is going to want to be in a place like Fallon for very long, anyway?

So now the Navy needs to get their feet wet again and they probably looked at a map of Oregon one day and had it occur to them that other than the Coast Guard and Oregon Guard, there is virtually no military presence here.


In this light, it seems natural that a military service looking for an ocean to train on would focus on a place like Oregon.

El Toro probably needed to be closed over the base contamination, but then it is just one of many, hundreds according to some sources, of military bases that are contaminated with TCE.

I don't mean to minimize the resulting problems in any way, but a Marine base might in the end be one of the only possible uses for this toxic waste land once surrounded by orange groves.

The base was a strongpoint for the defense of Orange County and Los Angeles. It was built where it is for many reasons. Now it sits like a ghost town while officials from Irvine, the Lennar Corporation, the Irvine Ranch Water District and others do their best to minimize the lethal quality of the ground.

I don't think the people of Oregon need or desire the presence of the U.S. military off their pristine coastline. El Toro should never have closed and the Navy never should have been relegated to a state with no ocean.

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Tim King is a former U.S. Marine with twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. In addition to his role as a war correspondent, this Los Angeles native serves as Salem-News.com's Executive News Editor.
Tim spent the winter of 2006/07 in Afghanistan with Oregon troops. Tim recently returned from Iraq where he covered the war there while embedded with an Oregon Guard aviation unit. Serving the community in very real terms, Salem-News.com is the nation's only truly independent high traffic news Website, affiliated with Google News and several other major search engines and news aggregators.
You can send Tim an email at this address: newsroom@salem-news.com




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Scott April 24, 2009 3:14 pm (Pacific time)

The Navy extended the public comment period on this matter until April 13th, according to Sen Wyden's office. It previously would have closed on March 11th.


Sean Hughes March 5, 2009 6:09 pm (Pacific time)

Assuming we’re talking about the same “proposal to conduct Naval operations on Oregon's coastline,” Sherlock … The Northwest Training Range Complex Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) does not call for the Navy to use any more air, sea or land space in the Pacific Northwest than it has been using since the early 1900s. This EIS is one of a dozen the Navy is compiling to comprehensively analyze the effects of its activities. We held public scoping meetings on the Northwest Training Range Complex EIS in June 2007, and public hearings were held in January and February. At the public's request, the Navy even extended the deadline and held an additional public hearing in Oregon to help people understand this important and admittedly (though not apologetically) comprehensive study. We're doing our best to inform the public and mitigate environmental harm while maintaining the training and readiness we need to defend the nation. Unfortunately, this kind of “reporting” only confuses the matter, and your readership. Sincerely, Sean Hughes Deputy Director of Public Affairs Navy Region Northwest


Henry Ruark February 20, 2009 8:47 pm (Pacific time)

To all: Constant demand for attention is a wellknown psychotic symptom. You might wish to keep that in mind when finding yourself overwhelmed by insistent instant analysis from those so obviously unable to comprehend and then cogitate on rational reports with some reasonable response devoid of personal feeling embarrassingly expressed in public here. See upcoming Op Ed for further details.


stephen February 20, 2009 3:46 pm (Pacific time)

or maybe.. to have our entire west coast covered, after a Iran invasion. Or maybe when China comes to collect the money we owe them? crazy world..who knows. :-)

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