U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIORBUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT
News.bytes Extra, issue 222
ISSUE UPDATE: SALTON SEA TEST BASE - TRANSFER OF NAVY LANDS TO BLM IN IMPERIAL COUNTY, CA
The BLM and the Department of the Interior (DOI) are working with the U.S. Navy to acquire approximately 5,840 acres of excess real property at the Navy's Salton Sea Test Base (SSTB) for potential use as part of DOI's efforts to reclaim the Salton Sea.
While the final transfer from Navy to BLM jurisdiction has not occurred, BLM is currently managing the resources at the SSTB under the MOU developed in 2000. Under EO 12580, the Secretary of Defense is responsible for ensuring that five-year reviews are conducted at all qualifing DOD cleanup sites. The Navy is currently conducting a five-year review for the SSTB to evaluate the implementation and performance of the selected remedy at the SSTB, including whether the selected remedy remains protective of human health and the environment. Information obtained during the site investigation will be used to determine if the current land use and potential future use are likely to differ from that which was anticipated in the Navy's SSTB Decision Document.
The SSTB property is on the southwestern side of the Salton Sea, about 35 miles northwest of El Centro in Imperial County. It was established by the Navy in 1942 for seaplane and bombing range operations, rocket development, jet engine fuels testing, and high altitude Army-Navy land and sea bombing experiments. After World War II, the SSTB was transferred to the Department of the Army for additional non-explosive testing related to nuclear weapons development. The Atomic Energy Commission assumed jurisdiction in 1947 and administered the SSTB until 1964, when it was transferred back to the Navy and used as a joint Navy and Air Force parachute test facility. The facility was excessed by the Navy in 1987, but was used again in 1990 as a training site for Operation Desert Shield/Storm.
The Department of Defense was directed to dispose of the base in accordance with the Base Closure and Relocation Act of 1988. In 1993, discussions BLM and Navy began discussing use of the former base for recreational opportunities and wildlife habitat. In 1995, BLM, in conjunction with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR), developed the Intergrated Resource Management Plan for Acquired and Withdrawn Lands on the Salton Sea Test Base, Imperial County, California, to guide site management. Under the terms of the IRMP, the lands would be managed consistent with the purposes for which existing U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and BOR withdrawals were made and will emphasize conservation of the flat-tailed horned lizard habitat.
DOI designated BLM to be the agency to accept the transfer of these lands from the Navy, using its authority under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act. BLM and the Navy agreed to conditions for environmental remediation of the lands, addressing issues of the possible presence of unexploded ordnance and other potentially hazardous materials. The Final Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) Between the Department of the Navy and the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Reclamation Concerning the Interagency Transfer of Base Closure Property known as the Salton Sea Test Base (SSTB) was signed by the three agencies in May 2000. The purpose of the MOU was to establish the terms, conditions, commitments, allocation of responsibilities for transfer of control and administration of the SSTB.
Pursuant to the Salton Sea Reclamation Act of 1998, Congress directed the Secretary of the Interior, through BOR, to conduct a feasibility study and design and construct a project to reclaim the Salton Sea. BOR believes the SSTB lands would be suitable for a pilot restoration project. BOR, in partnership with the Salton Sea Authority, BLM, and other federal, state, tribal, local and academic entities prepared a draft environmental impact statement on this effort.
BOR established a pilot and demonstartion-scale project of salt water evaporation systems in early 2001. The project was discontinued in early 2003. The ponds and liners remain in place in anticipation of future such projects. The Salton Sea Authority has indicated an interest in acquistion of lands in the area, including the SSTB. The intent would be to ultimately sell the lands to developers as a means to fund the reclamation project.
However the SSTB lands are ultimately utilized, a land use plan involving federal, state, local government agencies and others will be developed to coordinate agency activities, pool resources and minimize duplication of effort.
BLM is currently managing the resources at the site, but the official transfer of jurisdiction has not yet taken place. BLM is cooperating with the Salton Sea Authority, the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Navy on this effort and others to improve environmental conditions in and associated with the Salton Sea.
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