Bob Hope Airport officials believe that if pictures are worth a thousand words, then they have plenty to say in their dispute with Lockheed Martin Corp. over groundwater contamination.
The two parties are clashing in court over who must pay federally mandated cleanup costs related to toxins under the airport. Part of the dispute centers on a fire pit on the southwest portion of the airfield, where the Environmental Protection Agency believes residue contributed to soil contamination.
Bob Hope Airport officials contend the contamination occurred during Lockheed’s use of the site, and have released archival photos that they say prove their case.
One photo shows a plume of black smoke emerging from an earthen pit, with unidentified firefighters battling the blaze. Another shows the fire and surrounding areas, including a billboard advertising a McDonald’s sausage-and-hotcakes breakfast for 85 cents.
McDonald’s launched its breakfast menu in 1971, according to a company spokeswoman. Lockheed bought the land in question from the government in 1963 and sold it to the airport in 1978.
Victor Gill, a spokesman for the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority, said the area that includes the fire pit was paved over shortly after the airport bought the land, and so the fire must have burned on Lockheed’s watch.
“It’s one of two things,” Gill said. “Either Lockheed is running a fire drill in those pictures, or it is allowing another party to do so.”
But Lockheed spokeswoman Gail Rymer said the east San Fernando Valley had several fire pits during the era of extensive aviation manufacturing. Of the photos, she said, “We do not believe those are the pits in dispute based on the information we have at this time.
“The fire pits at issue pre-existed Lockheed Martin’s ownership of the property,” she added. “There is no evidence that Lockheed Martin operated these pits at any time.”
The ongoing dispute arose after the EPA informed the airport in July that it is considered a potentially responsible party for a $108-million cleanup effort.
The airport authority claims Lockheed accepted responsibility for the cleanup when the airport acquired the land, and has sued to force Lockheed to pay the airport’s share.
Gill noted that potential contamination from the fire pits is only a small part of the larger environmental problem caused mostly by the manufacturing solvents used nearby.
“The way we are looking at this, there is no way the airport authority has done anything that could be linked to the pollution,” he said.
Lockheed maintains it should not pay for pollution it did not cause.
“We did indemnify the airport for any part of our operation,” Rymer said. “We did not operate those fire pits.”