Rock of Ages

Photo by Myles RobinsonIn February, you read about the largest concrete pour in county history in The Orange County Register. More than 100 cement trucks and around 250 workers dumped more than 34 million pounds of concrete around the clock for an entire day to build two condo towers at Marquee Park Place in Irvine.

Tearing up the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, which could begin as early as January 2004, will be the opposite. The base itself is around 4,700 acres, 900 acres of which are concrete runways. Getting rid of them to make way for the Great Park will probably be the largest concrete removal in Orange County history, except that, as Orange County Great Park Corporation Board president Chris Mears told me, it can't be removed.

At least, not all at once.

"They're going to dig up so much concrete that if they were to grind it up and dump it on the market all at once, it would utterly depress the aggregate market in the western United States," Mears said.

Taking out several miles of runways that are at least 36 inches thick in places, will be a struggle for the record books. It'll be medieval. It'll be biblical. But Mears (who is also an Irvine city councilman) and others at the city say it'll be less invasive than building an airport.

It'll also be less expensive: the runways could pay for themselves. Concrete is made of two things—cement and aggregate (which is crushed stone). Both are worth money. Aggregate is increasingly valuable as local sources of rock dry up. The last Orange County mine, Cole Canyon, is due to close soon.

This makes El Toro runways prime candidates to be recycled and either turned into park roads or sold. Their concrete is just as good as concrete anywhere else, aggregate folk say—despite ongoing concerns that some pollution under El Toro has yet to be cleaned up. All that spilled aviation fuel and exhaust won't have polluted the concrete, they told me—making it ripe for reuse.

"We're going to be warehousing an awful lot of that [aggregate] on the Great Park and sell it over time," Mears said. "I think we're looking at five years until all of it's sold off."

But who will grind it up—which aggregate-making company will get the contract?

That'll be big news in Stone Town, aggregate people told me. So, they're gonna bid on that contract? I asked.

"Oh, yeah," a cigar-chomping aggregate-company president told me in a gravelly voice. "I guarantee we'll be doing something."


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