With cleanup bills mounting, county supervisors met in closed session Tuesday to discuss their lawsuit against Martin-Westside Associates and other airport operators whom officials blame for contamination of ground water at John Wayne Airport.
The county discovered the contamination, which involves discharged hydrocarbons and other chemicals, when work began on a bridge project that is part of the airport expansion. At first, the contamination appeared to be relatively minor, and the county budgeted $750,000 for cleanup.
More contamination was discovered when a hangar was demolished, however. Cleanup efforts have steadily grown since then.
The county bill for the project has topped $3 million, and the tab continues to grow.
“It’s still not finished,” said Jan Mittermeier, assistant airport manager. “We have monitoring wells, and we have to keep checking for contaminants and cleaning them up as we go.”
Martin-Westside, which operates hangars at the airport, is one of several companies named in the suit. Officials who attended Tuesday’s session said the suit is intended to recover cleanup costs. Under the lawsuit, filed in federal court in 1989, the county would bill the companies for those costs.
“Any time you have any type of contamination like this,” Mittermeier said, “anybody who has owned or operated the facility may have been responsible. We have ground-water contamination and soil contamination out here.”
Supervisor Thomas F. Riley, whose district includes the airport, declined to comment on the specifics of the closed session but hinted that he believes that a settlement is possible.
“I believe that negotiations on the issue are proceeding well and may result in an agreement,” Riley said.