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Benicia may pay share of Arsenal cleanup bill

The city and other property owners hope to avoid becoming collateral damage in a war to clean up the Arsenal.

The project is expected to cost several millions of dollars and take a decade to complete, and so far the Army is ducking any responsibility, state officials say.

That means existing property owners -- including the city -- may be on the hook financially for upfront cleanup costs, though property owners later may be able to sue the Department of Defense for reimbursement.

While the Department of Toxic Substance Control may order the cleanup, it can't necessarily make the Army pay for it.

On Tuesday, the Benicia City Council gave direction to staff to seek a consulting firm with experience in negotiating with the DTSC, the Department of Justice and the Defense Department.

It was unclear how much the consultant would cost the city or if the city can get reimbursed for the expense. But council members felt the action was imperative.

"We need that negotiating experience ... to ensure that all our interests as a city and all our interests in our business activities are accepted and that the Army pays for what they need to clean up," Mayor Elizabeth Patterson said.

City Attorney Heather Mc Laughlin recommended hiring an outside firm by the middle of next month.

The council asked that the consultant be able to develop a public communication plan, a cleanup strategy and a plan for getting state and federal aid in funding the

In August, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control notified the city it was considering ordering existing property owners to conduct any necessary, remaining cleanup of the former defense site.

That led to concerns among property owners and businesses over who would pay for the work and how it would impact their property values.

Among the property owners is the city, which owns a number of historic buildings and roads in the Arsenal.

The city and some Arsenal property owners face a Dec. 9 deadline to get back to California Department of Toxic Substances Control on whether they'd be willing to work together and enter into a cooperative cleanup agreement, DTSC spokesperson Charlotte Fadipe said.

Patterson said one of the consultant's roles would be to put pressure on state and elected officials to find available "pots of money" for the project.

"I really want to make sure that our message to our elected representatives both federally and state is really loud and clear," Patterson said. "We need to challenge the United States government to come forward and to put money on the table so we can take the next step."

The next steps are likely to include getting clarity on the scope of any remaining soil contamination, developing cleanup standards and then performing the necessary work.

The base operated from 1849 to 1964 before it was shut down, divided and transferred to new owners.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stopped cleanup work on the site years ago, but state and city officials believe more remediation must be performed.

"We are in it whether we like it or not," Vice Mayor Alan Schwartzman said. "The question is how are we going to move this forward with zero ramifications to the property owners and also to the city. And I don't see how we're going to do that."

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