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Cleaning up toxic land is paying big dividends in California: Kaiser Steel

Cleaning up toxic land is paying big dividends in California.

In 1983 as Fontana’s Kaiser Steel collapsed into bankruptcy it spilled 8,800 high-paid workers into unemployment and left behind a toxic nightmare. Nearly three decades later, the 1,500-acre site is home to NASCAR’s Auto Club Speedway, Kaiser Commerce Center’s 8.5 million square feet of distribution center space and the West Coast’s only steel fabricator and supplier, California Steel Industries.

Years of soil cleanups that made this redevelopment possible are also finished. On December 22 the California Department of Toxic Substances Control certified the end of soil cleanup efforts that made 1,150 acres safe for a new generation of commercial development.

The new development is helping grow California’s economy and tax base. The redeveloped Kaiser Steel site is again a major regional employer with 6,700 jobs. Property values at the old Kaiser Steel area have reached nearly $2 billion, four times higher than 1995. Businesses at the site will pay $13.2 million in property taxes to the San Bernardino County Redevelopment Agency during the fiscal year that ends June 30, 2011.

County Redevelopment Director Kathy Thomas says cleaning up toxics transformed Kaiser Steel into a “premier industrial, logistics and entertainment location.” The Auto Club Speedway alone has contributed nearly $2 billion to the regional economy since it opened in 1997, she said, while the average job at California Steel Industries pays $60,000 a year.

The redevelopment area’s new warehousing and distribution jobs also pay well, says regional economist John Husing.

“Those are facilities that have above-average pay, comparable to manufacturing, for workers who need blue-collar jobs,” Husing says. Some still express concerns about truck traffic and air pollution in the Fontana region. But Kaiser Commerce Center has become a major generator of renewable energy. ProLogis, a global real estate developer that built Kaiser Commerce Center while cleaning up nearly 600 acres of toxics since 2000, has worked with Southern California Edison to install acres of rooftop solar panels to feed power directly to the area power grid.

DTSC continues with cleanup efforts at the California Steel Industries site. CSI has invested nearly $900 million in its facilities since 1984 and employs about 1,000 workers. The steel operation is part of an overall transformation at the Kaiser site that few Californians would have dreamed possible in 1983.

Says Thomas: “The area has changed from a hazardous wasteland into an economic powerhouse.”


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