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Naval Air Facility El Centro

Environmental Restoration Program Public Website

This website provides background information on the U.S. Department of the Navy’s (Navy) Environmental Restoration Program (ERP) sites at Naval Air Facility (NAF), El Centro. The overarching goal of the Navy’s ERP is to protect human health and the environment and address the cleanup of contamination from past hazardous waste practices and releases at Navy and Marine Corps Installation Restoration Program (IRP) sites, Munitions Response Program (MRP) sites, and underground storage tank (UST) sites. The Navy’s ERP at NAF El Centro is managed by the Naval Facilities Engineering Command Southwest in San Diego, California.

The Navy’s ERP has identified 18 IRP sites, four MRP sites, and approximately 202 UST sites at NAF El Centro. Four of the 18 total IRP sites remain open, three of the four MRP sites have ongoing investigations or remedial actions, and 160 UST sites have either been closed, eliminated from the ERP or require no further action. The remaining UST sites are recommended for closure or for further action.

Congress passed the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) in 1976, the first of the major statutes enacted that addresses environmental issues at Navy installations. It was designed to manage disposal of wastes which were being generated and as such addresses corrective actions for leaking USTs used to contain fuels and other petroleum products. The management of hazardous substances at operating facilities are also regulated under RCRA and evaluated through RCRA facility assessments.

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as Superfund, was established in 1980 to provide a mechanism for the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) to clean up sites contaminated with hazardous waste and prevent contamination of future sites by assigning liability to responsible parties. The NBPL IRP sites identified for the Navy’s ERP have been or are currently being addressed under CERCLA.

The Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA) amended the CERCLA legislation in 1986. Among other changes, SARA established the Defense Environmental Restoration Program (DERP) which is managed by the Office of the Deputy Under-Secretary of Defense, Installations and Environment. The DERP cleans up hazardous substances, pollutants, contaminants, and military munitions remaining from past activities at military installations and formerly used defense sites. The Navy’s ERP addresses active IRP, MRP, and UST sites identified at NBPL under CERCLA as amended by SARA.

The Navy is the current landowner of NAF El Centro and the lead federal agency working with the California Department of Toxic Substances Control and Regional Water Quality Control Board, in accordance with CERCLA and RCRA, to collect and evaluate environmental data addressing issues related to past releases at each IRP, MRP, and UST site.

Naval Air Facility – El Centro History

NAF El Centro has provided fleet support since its inception. It was originally commissioned as a Naval Auxiliary Air Station in 1946. Many of the structures at the station were built during the 1940s. Located at the site of a former Civil Aeronautics Administration airport, the site was easily adapted to use as a military air facility. From 1942 to 1946, as part of the World War II war effort, the then Marine Corps Air Station was used to train Marine Corps aviators.

After the war, the station was transferred back to the Navy and almost decommissioned before being adopted for the Navy’s Parachute Experimental Unit in 1947. The facility evolved into the Joint Parachute Training Facility, a center for parachute testing and research for the Navy that was eventually called the National Parachute Testing Range (NPTR). During the 1950s, the facility set records for weight of equipment dropped by parachute and number of jumps by individuals.

In 1964, NAF El Centro became the Naval Aerospace Recovery Facility and, since 1967, has been the winter home of the Navy’s Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Squadron. In 1979 the facility was designated Naval Air Facility El Centro and use as the NPTR ended with the transfer of the NPTR to China Lake, California.

NAF El Centro’s primary mission has continued to be fleet support since transitioning from the NPTR. Facilities were upgraded to accommodate fleet deployment training cycles as strong urban growth placed more pressure on coastal airfields. High-performance jet aircraft and other training has relocated to NAF El Centro because of its remote location and good flying conditions.

Approximately 600 officers, enlisted personnel, and civilians currently occupy the facility. The mission of NAF El Centro is to maintain and operate facilities and provide services and materials to support naval operations, including aviation activities.

Environmental Restoration Program Background

The identification process for IRP sites was based on locating sites with indications of historical waste disposal operations and hazardous material spills. The purpose of the Navy’s IRP is to reduce the risk to human health and the environment from environmental contamination by moving IRP sites from identification and investigation phases to cleanup and closure phases under the CERCLA process.

The IRP program at NAF El Centro began in 1987 with a preliminary assessment and site inspection that located 16 sites, identified as IRP Sites 1 through 16, with the potential for soil or groundwater contamination from previous site operations. IRP Site 17 was identified in 1988 and IRP Site 18 was added in 2006, bringing the total to 18 sites.

As mandated by the National Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 2002, the DoD developed the MRP to address military munitions under the ERP. The MRP was initiated specifically to address unexploded ordnance, discarded military munitions, and associated chemical residues referred to as munitions constituents on current and former military installations. The program addresses only closed ranges at these facilities and does not affect any of the active range operations. All four MRP sites identified at NAF El Centro are related to small arms or aircraft firing ranges.

Corrective actions and cleanup for a total of 202 USTs previously containing fuel and other petroleum products are managed under the ERP at NAF El Centro. Reporting of releases is generally followed by an initial abatement or other interim response, after which a site assessment is performed to define the nature and extent of contamination in soil and groundwater. A corrective action plan is then prepared and implemented, followed by verification monitoring, or by either removal of the tank or closure in place.

CLICK HERE for information on the Navy’s ERP.

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