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Once tainted by DDT, Navy’s former NTC boat channel is deemed clean and ready to be part of Liberty Station

The Naval Training Center boat channel bisects the 541-acre Liberty Station site.
(Ana Ramirez / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Navy is ready to transfer cleaned-up channel to San Diego; city expects to owe Navy millions for environmental remediation.

San Diego officials have hired a law firm to help them complete acquisition of the Naval Training Center boat channel, the final 57 acres of the defunct military base in Point Loma promised to the city two decades ago for the Liberty Station mixed-use development.

Transfer of the land has been delayed several years by the Navy’s need to complete expensive and complex environmental cleanup of the site, which was contaminated with copper, lead, zinc and total dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane — also known as DDT.

With the cleanup completed last year, San Diego officials say they expect the Navy to sue the city to recover part of the costs for the cleanup. A representative of City Attorney Mara Elliott said the city’s costs are expected to be in the millions.

San Diego’s acquisition of the land is not expected to significantly change the boat channel, which has a small marina and is used primarily for aquatic recreation such as kayaking and paddleboarding. The channel bisects the 541-acre Liberty Station site.

The east side of the channel was developed four years ago with a public esplanade and a 650-room hotel complex that includes three hotels and a stand-alone restaurant.

The boat channel is a key part of ambitious plans to someday create a bay-to-bay water link that would connect San Diego Bay — at the end of the boat channel — to the San Diego River and Mission Bay by building a canal usable by small boats.

A great egret hunts in the Naval Training Center boat channel on Monday, Sept. 26, 2022.
A great egret hunts in the Naval Training Center boat channel.
(Ana Ramirez / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Surface water and beach sand in the channel were not found to contain elevated levels of chemicals, and an ecological assessment indicated no unacceptable risk for aquatic mammals or birds such as harbor seals or the great blue heron.

The environmental concerns were focused on the sediment under the channel, which had absorbed pollution from more than 30 storm drains for decades. The chemicals posed health risks for benthic invertebrates, which include worms, crustaceans and aquatic insects.

The San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife signed off in 2019 on the proposed remediation efforts. They included the Navy dredging contaminated sediment to a depth of roughly 2 feet and disposing 31,057 cubic yards of it in a regulated solid waste landfill.

The City Council agreed last week to pay up to $150,000 to attorney Dom Bishop, who city officials say has expertise with such cases. About $60,000 is expected to be spent in the ongoing fiscal year, with an additional $90,000 expected to be spent in future fiscal years, officials said.

Bill Franklin, a Navy public affairs officer, said the remediation work is complete and that “no further action is needed or planned at the boat channel.”

The Naval Training Center was among several bases closed in 1993’s federal base realignment and closure effort.

The city and the Navy signed a memorandum of agreement in 2000 that transferred every part of the base to the city except the boat channel, which the Navy agreed to clean up before transferring.


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