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DTSC oversees the environmentally sustainable cleanup of most contaminated portion of former Navy shipyard

Long considered among the most seriously contaminated portions of the former Mare Island Naval Shipyard, a 230-acre landfill on the island’s west shore has been reborn as a wildlife refuge and recreation area that includes four miles of a public trails and prime vantage points for watching local wildlife.

“This is the best environmental remedy that could be for the landfill,” said Laura Duchnak, Director of the Navy’s Base Realignment and Closure Program Management Office.

Recently, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta recognized the restoration project by giving it the military’s highest environmental award.  The wildlife refuge was chosen over more than 30,000 other sites across the nation.

“This site is so worthy of this award,” said Debbie Raphael, Director of the Department of Toxic Substances Control Director (DTSC). “I’m proud for our department to have been a part of it.”

While DTSC is responsible for overseeing and certifying the cleanup of contaminants caused by previous military activities on the island, Raphael commended the Navy “for not being afraid to own its past.”

Established in 1854, Mare Island was in continuous use as a U.S. Naval shipyard for more than 140 years, closing in 1996.

“We’ve taken the tiger by the tail, so to speak, and tamed it,” Dwight Gemar, a program manager for Weston Solutions said of the landfill cleanup.

The landfill is where the Navy kept waste from the early 1940s until 1989, including waste oil, lead batteries, demolition debris, asbestos and munitions. Contaminated soil and debris from five other sites on Mare Island were brought to the old landfill and consolidated under a 73-acre containment cap. This environmentally sustainable approach avoided 9,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions by eliminating the need to truck contaminants to landfills off the island.

In addition, instead of trucking in 250,000 tons of fill dirt to provide the soil cover over the landfill cap, clean soil from dredge ponds on the island was used, sparing another 245 tons in carbon emissions. About 100 tons of recycled, crushed concrete was used to create surface water drainage features and help with erosion control.

The cleanup created 8.7 acres of new wetlands and improved existing wetlands in addition to providing several miles of trails. Removing the stigma of a hazardous waste landfill has made the island more attractive for businesses, homes and tourism. And for the City of Vallejo, which was hit hard by the 1996 base closure, the cleanup created revenue.  Weston Solutions spent nearly $20 million at local businesses for services from surveying to equipment rentals.   

“This is so significant for a community that so desperately needs a place of peace,” Myrna Hayes, co-chair of the Mare Island Restoration Advisory Board, said of the cleanup and the award.


  • Consolidating contaminated soil and debris from H1 and five other sites on Mare Island within the H1 landfill avoided an estimated 9000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions since the contaminated material was not trucked to offsite landfills.
  • Using dredge pond soil from the island to create a two-foot cover for the landfill saved an additional 245 tons of carbon dioxide emissions since this material did not have to be brought in from off-site locations.
  • 100 tons of concrete from the island was used as rip-rap to create surface water drainage features and enhance erosion control.
  • Protection of the salt marsh harvest mouse, a state and federally listed endangered species.
  • Improvement of 120 acres of existing wetlands and creation of 8.7 acres of additional wetlands.
  • Creation of four miles of public access trails for wildlife and bay viewing with interpretive panels that explain the environmental restoration process, local wildlife and history of the island.

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