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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

December 9, 2015 -- After suffering a major setback in their battle to regain control of Santa Monica Airport, City officials are moving forward on other fronts, including increasing the pressure on owners of fuel tanks for aircraft to clean up contamination.

The City Attorney’s Office on Tuesday issued warnings to Gunnell Aviation and American Flyers for failing to provide the status of work planned or underway to remediate possible contaminates related to fuel, oil and oil residues.

“We need to know what’s going on at those sites,” said Deputy City Attorney Ivan Campbell, who sent out the warning letters to the two companies.

Representatives for Gunnell Aviation and American Flyers did not return calls for comment.

On Tuesday, outgoing Mayor Kevin McKeown cited the letters as part of the City’s resolve to reclaim the airport site for public uses, as authorized by Measure LC approved by voters in November last year.

“We have begun the process of cleaning up the damage to our land while it has been in airport use, to prepare it for community use, such as parks, public open spaces, public recreational facilities, culture, arts and education uses,” he wrote in an email to the Lookout.

“Today, we have sent letters to companies selling fuel at the airport demanding they immediately begin environmental remediation and restoration, if they have not done so already, and submit a work plan to the City within two weeks," he said.

Advocates of shutting down the century-old airport contend that it poses a public danger because it is located too close to homes and generates excessive noise and air pollution, as well as contamination at the site itself.

But the airport’s fate is still far from certain as the federal government and the aviation industry continue to push back in a decades- long power struggle.

On Friday, the City was dealt a major blow when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a decision that the City was obligated to operate the airport as an aviation facility until 2023 because it had accepted a grant in 2013 (“FAA Rules Santa Monica Airport Must Stay Open,” December 7, 2015).

City officials argue that according to its 1984 agreement, Santa Monica’s obligation to keep the airport open ended last year, and they vow to continue preparations to remake the airport into a site for community uses as dictated by Measure LC.

McKeown predicted the City Council would vote at its Tuesday night meeting to appeal the FCC ruling and perhaps take additional steps.

It is a “certainty,” he said, that the Council will “choose to appeal and take our strong and documented claim that all grant assurances have expired to court, where we expect to win.”

In his warning letter to Gunnell, Campbell said remediation work needs to be completed by the time its current lease with the City ends in February.

The letter said Gunnell’s presence at the airport, which dates back to 1986, has caused several environmental problems over the years, and that the City is concerned about the possible release of hazardous substances.

Under the terms of its lease with the City, Gunnell is “obligated to restore the lease’s premises to as good a condition as when it took possession,” the letter said.

The City Attorney’s warning to American Flyers said the business was legally obligated to provide a Phase 1 environmental site assessment report and to conduct any necessary investigation and remediation-restoration work.

“American Flyers was obligated to begin performance of such work prior to Lease expiration on July 1, 2015,” the letter said.

“To date, the City has not received the Phase 1 report called for in the Lease or any written notice or information indicating that American Flyers commences performance of this obligation.”

Frustrated by the FAA’s delays, the Council in October imposed its own anti-pollution rules for the airport, including a total cap on all pollutants generated by the facility (“City Council Cracks Down on Santa Monica Airport Pollution,” October 29, 2015).

The Council also approved giving the City control of selling fuel, ending third-party involvement, and allowing only unleaded fuel at the airport.

A representative of the National Business Aviation Association said the City had no authority to impose its own pollution standards on the airport, which is overseen by the FAA.

At that time, City Attorney Marsha Moutrie acknowledged the fight to close the airport is far from over, but noted the Council could take fairly swift action by curbing pollution at the site.

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