Down on the Fuel-Tank Farm

El Toro Airport Watch No. 116

For most residents, the county's Aug. 4 press conference was notable for the admission that El Toro planning was months behind schedule. But county officials didn't gather the press just to spin their inability to meet their own deadlines. They actually wanted to talk about their shiny new Technical Report 14, subtly titled Support Facilities.

Among other topics, the new report outlines things like the proposed airport's cargo-handling areas, general-aviation areas, catering complex and maintenance areas. But what caught our eye was the diagram of the proposed fuel-tank farm.

The tank farm is the future airport's gas station. Sitting on roughly 11 acres, it consists of eight tanks, each measuring 1,000 feet in diameter and capable of holding 1.75 million gallons of jet fuel. That makes the farm's total storage capacity 14 million gallons—what the county considers a seven-day supply.

When the Marines ran El Toro, they placed their tank farm on the base's remote northeastern corner, far enough from civilization that accidents might be limited to radical brush fires and dead deer. But, as we've so often seen, county officials aren't as cautious. They want their tank farm near the railroad tracks along the airport's southern edge, close to the base's underground fuel lines. In that location, the tank farm will stand a mere 1,000 feet from Irvine's Technology Drive, home of many of the high-tech firms that make up the Irvine Spectrum.

Recent history tells us the county really ought to rethink this one. In April, faulty warning alarms led to a 42,000-gallon spill of high-octane gasoline out of a 4 million-gallon tank in Cobb County, Georgia. This occurred less than a year after 40,000 gallons of fuel leaked out of a ruptured pipe in Sandy Springs, Georgia. Of course, both accidents paled before the three tanks that caught fire in Doraville, Georgia, burning for days.

And in March 1995, a nearly empty 3 million-gallon storage tank at 20-tank Amoco farm in Carteret, New Jersey, exploded, belching enough black smoke to turn the noon hour into night. Officials evacuated nearby homes, a school and shopping center. The fire was so hot that it melted the roof of the storage tank. Miraculously, there were no serious injuries.

County officials have had three years and tens of millions of dollars to play around with airport designs. This is the best they can do?

 
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