How federal defense funds can help Ontario International Airport grow
California’s Air National Guard abandoned operations at Ontario International Airport more than 20 years ago, but its former station and buildings remain, taking up valuable space.
Rep. Norma Torres, D-Pomona, recently launched federal efforts to assist the airport in the costly hazardous material abatement and removal of the former Air National Guard buildings.
“The cost of removing that is really, really expensive for the airport should they take that project on their own, and I don’t think they should,” Torres said. “This is the responsibility of the military since they abandoned the site.”
Torres’s proposal, which is part of the Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill for Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, would allow airports to use funds from the Base Realignment and Closure account to remove former military facilities and return the land to developable conditions.
The legislation has passed the House of Representatives and will be considered by the Senate.
Torres has also added two related legislative proposals to the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2018, which passed the House in April.
The first amendment would create an Environmental Mitigation Pilot Program to allow the Department of Defense to provide additional funding for airport improvements at vacant facilities, including those located at the Ontario airport, according to a news release. The second amendment would add economic impacts to the study on the effect of airport noise on communities near busy airports.
“Our city, our community stepped up and provided the support for our Air National Guard,” Torres said. “Now, we want the Air National Guard to come back, clean up the asbestos and take down those buildings and do what they need to do to ensure that the land is fully returned to the airport authority. And, that it’s not just returned as is, but it is returned in a usable way as it was given to them.”
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The Air National Guard station was first used in the late 1940s to early 1950s. It provided training and support for the Korean, Vietnam and other wars and conflicts, before shuttering operations in 1997.
The buildings include a hangar with adjoining offices, barracks, dining hall, storage and maintenance buildings, which have asbestos, lead paint and other hazardous materials.
Hazardous materials were removed from most of the hangar’s interior and the building was used by Express Jet until it closed in 2008. Since then, the hangar has been used for storage and filming.
But, the space lacks a fire suppression system, seismic retrofits and working bathrooms, making it better suited for demolition than a new tenant.
Since gaining control over the airport from Los Angeles World Airports, the Ontario International Airport Authority has been working to offer passengers more flights and expand its cargo capacity.
Removing the Air National Guard buildings, as well as former General Electric and Lockheed buildings sitting vacant at the airport, could make way for more cargo facilities, according to Bruce Atlas, chief operating officer with the Ontario International Airport Authority.
“There is no more developable space,” Atlas said. “It’s imperative that we are able to go in, tear these buildings down and prepare for construction to meet the demand.”
Torres, a long-time advocate of local control, said she flies out of Ontario airport, even though that comes with a layover in Dallas, because driving to LAX is an inconvenience.
“I’m looking forward to my constituents having an opportunity to see the Ontario airport as a destination with direct flights everywhere,” Torres said. “And, as a successful airport that’s able to utilize every piece of land they have available to them without the burden of having to clean up after a federal government project that should have been cleaned up when they first left.”