Defense company turns from rockets to real estate

 

CALIFORNIA


Aerospace and defense company GenCorp has big plans for a former rocket-testing site east of Sacramento: Turn part of it into a subdivision. The company wants to build offices, stores, and 3,800 houses and apartments in the 1,400-acre Easton development.

The new development will cover more than a tenth of a 13,000-acre site where GenCorp subsidiary Aerojet tested rocket engines and also dumped wastes left over from producing engines and manufacturing pharmaceuticals. Much of that acreage is now a Superfund site. The new development will be on relatively clean ground, but a toxic brew of industrial chemicals, including perchlorate, still lurks below in the groundwater (HCN, 4/28/03: Perchlorate: It’s not just for rocket fuel anymore).

Taxpayers and Aerojet have already spent $185 million to clean up pollutants seeping toward nearby neighborhoods — a job that won’t be finished for 240 years, according to Environmental Protection Agency estimates. The contamination also forced the closing of more than a dozen municipal wells, so Aerojet must replace that lost water by treating polluted groundwater and transferring it to Sacramento County.

The Easton project "is driven by smart-growth principles," says GenCorp spokeswoman Linda Cutler: It’s near a proposed light-rail line and a major highway, and includes a mix of housing, retail and open space. But environmentalists believe many other locations would be better suited for development. Vicki Lee of the Sierra Club’s Motherlode chapter says, "Everybody jumps on the smart-growth bandwagon to sugarcoat inappropriate projects."