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El Toro Marine Corps Air Station

The Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) El Toro was officially closed in 1999. MCAS El Toro was a master jet air station supporting the operations and combat readiness of Pacific Fleet Maine Forces. MCAS El Toro provided materials and support for aviation activities of the United States marine Corps (USMC).

MCAS El Toro is located in a semiurban agricultural area in Southern California. The station is situated about 8 miles southeast of the city of Santa Ana and 12 miles northeast of the city of Laguna Beach. Most of the land northwest of MCAS El Toro is used to grow oranges and other agricultural crops. Land to the south and northwest of the station have been developed as commercial, light industrial , and residential.

Marine Corps Air Station MCAS El Toro consists of approximately 4,700 acres in central Orange County adjacent to the convergence of Interstate Freeways I-5 and I-405 and the Eastern Transportation Corridor Most of the MCAS El Toro site is in unincorporated territory over which the County of Orange has direct land use planning and development authority The southernmost portion of the MCAS El Toro site approximately 342 acres south of the existing Burlington Northern and Santa Fe railroad tracks which border the base is within the incorporated boundary of the City of Irvine. El Toro has two 10,000 ft. and two 8,000 ft. runways.

During World War II combat pilots received their training at MCAS El Toro. The construction of MCAS El Toro began in July 1942 on a parcel of land purchased from The Irvine Company. The facility was initially built as a wartime expedient air station for the purpose of aircraft squadron formation and unit training prior to overseas combat deployment. It was commissioned on 17 March 1943. The station includes runways, aircraft maintenance and training facilities, housing, shopping facilities, and other support facilities. The Department of the Navy's Marine Corps began construction of the air station on 2,319 acres of land. An additional 2,379 acres were acquired between 1944 and 1977 to bring MCAS to its present size of 4,741 acres.

In 1945, Congress made it the permanent West Coast Marine Corps Air Station. In 1950 MCAS El Toro was selected for development as a Master Jet Air Station and the permanent center of Marine aviation on the west coast of the United States. Its mission was to support the operations and combat readiness of Fleet Marine Forces. In 1955 the Third Marine Aircraft Wing Headquarters relocated to El Toro from Miami Florida to become the primary tenant. After 1971 the Marine Air Reserve under the command of the 4th Marine Air Wing conducted reserve training operations at El Toro.

The station became one of 15 Department of Defense installations assigned as "Model Installations", to act as a test site to reduce bureaucracy and inefficiency. In 1985, El Toro was awarded the Commander in Chief's Award for Installation Excellence for its efforts in improving the quality of life aboard the station. In 1986, the station received the award again, the only installation to receive the award twice. MCAS El Toro was a showcase for Marine Corps aviation and a reserve mobilization site.

Bachelor housing is provided for 3250 marines in barracks on the main facility of El Toro Marine Corps Air Station. Family housing for 1256 marines and 4000 dependents is provided in housing facilities on the east side of Irvine Boulevard. There are 2950 military personnel who work at the facility, but live off station. MCAS employs 1750 civilian personnel, with the majority of personnel living in the towns of Lake Forest (El Toro), Irvine, Santa Ana, and Anaheim, California, between one mile and ten miles from MCAS.

The station was used for aviation activities for almost 50 years. Activities at the base have generated waste oils, paint residues, hydraulic fluid, used batteries and other wastes. In the past, there were few environmental rules and regulations and disposal technologies were limited. During those times, some wastes produced at station were disposed on the station. Recent recognition that these waste products may be harmful to people and the environment has resulted in new laws and regulations governing disposal.

Soil and groundwater contamination at MCAS El Toro is a result of several past operations that were accepted practices. example, in the 1940s, aircraft refurbishing included the use solvents during degreasing activities. Between 1943 and 1955, municipal-type solid waste was generated by station housing (typical residential activities). Early disposal activities included incineration. Later, solid waste disposal was conducted at cut-and-fill landfill sites. Four landfills received solid waste, paint residues, oily wastes, industrial solvents, and incinerator ash. Fire-fighting training exercises were conducted at two burn pit areas and included the use of various flammable liquids such as jet fuel, aviation gasoline, and other waste liquids.

MCAS is situated in a semi-urban, agricultural area of Southern California. The majority of the land immediately surrounding MCAS is used to raise oranges, strawberries, asparagus, and other agricultural crops. Portions of the station are leased for nursery use and agriculture use. The University of California, Irvine, has an agricultural field station directly north of MCAS. Located just northeast of the MCAS is a large nursery where fruit trees are grown. Until 10 years ago, the entire area surrounding MCAS was agricultural land; since then, urbanization has brought development closer to MCAS. New housing developments lie about one-half mile to the northeast of Site 1. About one-half mile northwest of the MCAS boundary are the main residential areas of the city of Irvine. The land farther north and northeast of MCAS in the Santa Ana Mountains and the San Joaquin Hills remains essentially undeveloped

The closure of MCAS El Toro as a military facility is a result of the federal 1993 Base Realignment and Closure [BRAC] process. MCAS El Toro is one of 30 California military bases placed on the closure list during or after 1988. The 1993 Base Realignment and Closure Committee (BRAC) slotted MCAS El Toro for closure. The base was revisited with the 1995 BRAC and slotted for closure in 1999. Operational closure of MCAS El Toro was implemented in July 1999.

In addition to being part of the Installation Restoration Program, MCAS El Toro is included on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's National Priorities List of hazardous waste sites requiring cleanup. The Marine Corps/Navy and state and federal environmental regulatory agencies work in cooperation as the Base Realignment and Closure Cleanup Team to ensure compliance with environmental laws, rules, and regulations.

The County of Orange was designated by the Department of Defense DOD Office of Economic Adjustment OEA as the Local Redevelopment Authority LRA for El Toro on 05 April 1995. The LRA is responsible for planning the reuse of MCAS El Toro. Under federal law and implementing regulations a three tiered series of screening processes was undertaken in 1994-95 to identify interest in obtaining buildings and property at closing military installations. First priority was given to the DOD and other federal agencies under the federal screening process. Property not granted to the DOD and other federal agencies was then made available to state local agencies and homeless service providers under the state and local screening process. Under the screening process state and local entities apply to a federal agency requesting sponsorship for a public benefit conveyance of property at no cost or a reduced cost.

Under the federal screening process for MCAS El Toro units of the DOD and other federal agencies submitted applications to the Department of the Navy DON requesting transfer of property and facilities at MCAS El Toro. Requests from the Department of Interior and FAA and a later request from the FBI are expected to be granted by transfer of approximately 970 acres of the base northeast of Irvine Boulevard from the DON directly to these federal agencies. The County is not expected to request or be involved in the conveyance of this area . A federal screening request from the Air National Guard is proposed to be accommodated on the site through a no cost lease with the LRA.

The question of how to use the 4,700 acres of publicly owned land is one of the most controversial issues facing Orange County today. The City of Irvine has a strong vested interest in the conversion of the former MCAS El Toro site from military use to civilian use because 4,298 acres of MCAS El Toro are within the Sphere of Influence of the City of Irvine and 440 acres are already within the City's boundaries.

Advocates for redevelopment of the facility as an airport have cited the projected growth in regional air traffic demand, and the increasing difficulty in providing efficient surface transportation to existing airports (specifically LAX and Ontario) as reasons for proceeding with the development of El Toro as a civil airport. Opponents cited a combination of factors: aircraft noise, regardless of the operational concept adopted; incompatibility with the existing Long Beach airport, and most frequently, inconsistent and misleading data from airport advocates that imply that to accommodate noise concerns, the new airport's traffic flow would be towards the east and north, a direction of flight that ignores both terrain effects and the prevailing westerly winds. Airline and pilots' organizations are on record as considering east or north operations at El Toro unacceptable, and some comments have endorsed an entire new airport layout, with primary runways laid out northwest-southeast. Not surprisingly, the issue of re-using El Toro is the basis of at least one lawsuit in local courts.

The former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro facility is under consideration for reuse as a commercial airport. El Toro Air Base and surrounding no-home buffer zone contains 18,450 acres. With the closure and realignment of several military bases in the ASA air carrier passenger and cargo services could potentially be initiated at several other facilities. These include in addition to MCAS El Toro the following: joint use of March Air Force Base MAR in Riverside County, joint use of the Naval Air Weapons Station Point Mugu PMG in Ventura County, San Bernardino International SBI formerly Norton Air Force Base in San Bernardino County, and Southern California Logistics Airport SCLA formerly George Air Force Base in San Bernardino County.

Numerous studies over the past approximately 30 years have addressed the inadequacy of John Wayne Airport [JWA] to handle the long term commercial aviation needs of Orange County. In most of these studies MCAS El Toro was identified as a potential civilian airport facility. However each of these studies concluded that since El Toro would continue to be maintained as an active military base and because of the historic and consistent opposition by the Marine Corps to joint use of El Toro it would not be available for any civilian aviation uses. Those studies also generally concluded that JWA could never be developed to a level adequate to serve all of the Orange County generated air transportation demand and that no feasible alternative airport site to serve Orange County could be identified and successfully implemented.

Implementation of the Proposed Project will entail the reuse of two existing MCAS El Toro runways 16R 34L and 7R 25L and the construction of two new runways 16L 34R and 7L 25R each of which will parallel its existing counterpart. Construction of new runways is required because the centerline separation between both pairs of existing parallel runways is 500 feet which is 200 feet less than the FAA standard for conducting simultaneous visual operations by large aircraft. Because the separation distance between the existing MCAS El Toro parallel runway pairs does not meet current civilian airport standards for independent simultaneous aircraft operations in clear weather conditions each new runway will be constructed at an offset distance from its parallel twin sufficient to meet FAA requirements for operation under these conditions.

The Navy interest in the development of this facility lies primarily in its potential effects at Marine Corps Base (MCB) Camp Pendleton. An "all north" or "all east" flow at El Toro could potentially be accommodated with few effects on Camp Pendleton. However, examination of the competing proposals for the airfield's use (with or without flight operations) indicates that should air carrier operations be allowed, airlines and pilots' organizations would force use of more optimum (and presumably safer) westerly or southerly departure procedures. Should a southerly departure be adopted it would impact the northern parts of Camp Pendleton's airspace, and potentially impact the SUA overlying the installation itself. This potential has been identified by airport proponents, without any indication that those proponents would accept status quo operations at Camp Pendleton as a constraint to redevelopment of the airport.

Previously known as the community of El Toro, the area now called the city of Lake Forest is less than one-half mile from the southeastern boundary of MCAS. Its estimated 1990 population was 62,685. The population break-down consists of 94.2 percent Caucasian, 7.0 percent Hispanic, 4.1 percent Asian/Pacific Islander, 1.1 percent African-American, and 0.6 percent American Indian. There are 16,508 persons less than 18 years old, and 46,177 persons 18 years and older. The median education is 13.9 years of school. The median household income is $40,411 compared to the median household income of all of Orange County of $40,248. Approximately 48 percent of the households earn more than $50,000 per year. An estimated 71 percent of employed residents work in "white-collar" jobs, 18 percent in "blue-collar" jobs, 10 percent in services, and less than 1 percent in agriculture and fishing. The 1990 unemployment rate was 3.1 percent.

The city of Irvine, located in central Orange County, less than one mile west of MCAS, covers 43.6 square miles and has a total population of 102,418 with a median age of 29.8 years. There are 29,445 persons less than 18 years old, 65,129 persons between 18 and 60 years old, and 7844 persons over 60 years old. Approximately 74 percent of the city's population is Caucasian, 18 percent Asian/Pacific Islander, 6.3 percent Hispanic, 1.7 percent African-American, 0.19 percent American Indian, and 0.11 percent other. The median education is 14.4 years with 34.7 percent of all residents being college graduates. Over 19 percent of the population falls into the $75,000 and above annual income range. There was an estimated four percent unemployment rate in 1990.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:47:14 ZULU