Since closing in 2001, the former McClellan Air Force Base has become a model, both nationally and internationally, for successful environmental cleanup and simultaneous transformative redevelopment. When the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission announced in 1995 that McClellan AFB would close, the surrounding community feared it was a death knell for the region. Now, some 10 years later, approximately 13,500 employees and visitors are at the 240 businesses located at the former base on an average day, more than worked at the base when closure was announced.
To facilitate the rapid redevelopment, the Air Force, Sacramento County and McClellan Business Park, the developer selected by the county to transform the former base, implemented a "hot transfer" to immediately lease the entire 3,000-acre base to McClellan Park when the base closed in July 2001. That enabled McClellan Park to begin the improvements necessary to create a thriving mixed-use business park. Fences and gateways came down, infrastructure was updated and buildings were refurbished to welcome the community into McClellan Park.
The Officer's Club became Lions Gate Hotel and Conference Center; officers' housing in the historic area became upscale, urban rental units. Rows of warehouses are now offices for the local school district, small businesses, major manufacturers, federal agencies, and more. Ballfields are now the focal point of a community park. And airplanes that once flew in and out of McClellan are the major attraction at a world-class aerospace museum.
Not only is the former base an example of successful reuse, it is a model of "green" transformation. Home to two solar energy panel manufacturers, numerous recycling businesses, and a host of businesses that implement green and sustainable features in their building designs, McClellan Park is building a reputation as a green park. McClellan Business Park, the developer, has worked hard to implement environmentally friendly practices from the ground up, from water-wise landscaping and sustainable storm drains, to natural skylights and cool reflective roofing, solar panel-covered parking lots, energy efficient lighting throughout the park, and electric golf carts for the maintenance crews.
In the background of the redevelopment, the Air Force has continued an aggressive environmental cleanup program at the former base. Past disposal practices, spills, releases, and leaking tanks and pipelines resulted in soil and groundwater contamination at the former base. The Air Force also put chemical and industrial wastes in disposal pits at McClellan from the 1940s through the 1970s. This was a commonplace industrial practice before more stringent modern environmental laws and regulations went into effect.
Groundwater contamination was discovered at McClellan in 1979. In 1987, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency listed the entire base on its National Priorities List as a "Superfund" site. This listing requires the Air Force to follow the cleanup process prescribed in the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) with regulatory oversight from the U.S. EPA and the State of California.
McClellan's drinking water is safe to drink, because it is supplied by Sacramento Suburban Water District and, therefore, is not impacted by the groundwater contamination. The Air Force and state and federal regulators work together to ensure that McClellan remains a safe place to live, work and play.
As properties within McClellan are determined suitable for transfer, the Air Force transfers ownership by deed to McClellan Park through Sacramento County. To date, the Air Force has transferred more than 500 acres to McClellan Park through a Finding of Suitability to Transfer. Having the actual fee title to the property, rather than a long-term lease, makes it easier for the developer to secure loans for more extensive redevelopment projects and to woo prospective tenants.
However, due to the time-consuming nature of the environmental investigations and cleanup, property transfers under this traditional approach occur gradually. To address that, in 2007 McClellan became the first Department of Defense site in the nation to complete an "early transfer with privatized cleanup." Under this scenario, the Air Force completes the investigation and may even determine the appropriate cleanup remedy, then transfers the property to the County and McClellan Business Park, with a negotiated cost paid by the Air Force to fund the remaining cleanup. McClellan Business Park then implements the cleanup with US EPA making the cleanup decisions and providing regulatory oversight. This allows for a quicker, more efficient cleanup and redevelopment as the cleanup can occur concurrently with site preparation for a new business to move on site. All transfers are contingent on a careful review and approval by the federal and state regulatory agencies.
More than 600 acres have been transferred to McClellan Park using Finding of Suitability for Early Transfer model. These properties still require cleanup actions, and institutional controls to protect human health and the environment remain in place until the cleanup is complete.
Cleanup of the first privatized cleanup project, a 62-acre site, is nearing completion and McClellan Park anticipates the new tenant, U.S. Foods, will begin constructing its new warehouse on the site in the summer of 2011. The second early transfer with privatized cleanup moved some 540 acres to McClellan Park in 2010. The EPA expects to finalize cleanup plans for 49 sites in those parcels by the end of 2011, with cleanup actions taking place in 2012. The remaining 2,400 acres at McClellan are slated for transfer by 2013. In the meantime, the Air Force continues to move through the CERCLA cleanup process for the properties not yet transferred.
In addition to the properties at McClellan itself, several satellite facilities once associated with McClellan have, for the most part, been transferred since base closure in 2001. These sites include:
- Capehart Housing, located approximately three miles north of McClellan
- Sacramento River Dock, located on the Sacramento River
- Camp Kohler, 35 acres of which will be retained by the Air Force, located just east of McClellan
- Davis Global Communications Site, approximately five miles south of the City of Davis
The Air Force has conducted environmental investigations at these sites and taken appropriate cleanup actions, in coordination with the regulatory agencies. Groundwater cleanup actions are ongoing at the Davis Global Communications Site.