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Point Arena, California--
The Point Arena Radar Station may or may not be up for sale. It's not on the clickable map of base closures on the Department of Defense's Internet web site called PARCELS. But closure has been discussed since 1980--almost continuously, according to some station employees--and speculation about the station's future is nothing new.
Yesterday, 5th district Mendocino County Supervisor Charles Peterson visited the site with an official of a privately owned company in the satellite tracking business. The company is looking for a tracking station, and Point Arena has the right "infrastructure." It could also serve as a launching station, since it has a missile launching platform. But for satellite launching, sites further west are preferred, since less orbital correction is required.
Several years back the Mendocino County board of supervisors considered the use of the radar station as a homeless shelter. But it was rejected by the homeless as being too remote. There were also objections made because of toxic contamination.
It's also been considered as a minimum security prison.
While there has been much talk about how it might be used, there has never been any official word that it's closing. Still, a clean-up effort has been going on there for the last couple of years. Not just routine housekeeping, it's the kind of clean-up done when a base is sold: ground water is being checked for contamination, old dumps are being excavated.
Closing the base depends on a couple of factors. First, a new station at Rainbow Ridge in Humbolt county must be completed so there are no holes in radar coverage. Rainbow Ridge is between Fortuna and the coast. Access is by a dirt logging road, and currently there is no electricity there. If nothing else, Radar stations require electricity. The cost of electricity is going to be something like 4 million dollars, considerably over budget from the original cost estimate by PG&E.
Despite cost, Rainbow Ridge is scheduled to be operational by September 1996. But there is another dependency. That is the possible closing of the Mill Valley Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) radar station. Assuming that Rainbow Ridge opens on schedule and that the Mill Valley station remains open, then the Point Arena station is no longer needed. Due to advances in radar technology, fewer stations are required these days to cover the same amount of space in the sky. But a hole will be created if the Mill Valley station closes.
The lease on the Mill Valley station is running out, and there's talk that Marin county won't renew it. The Mill Valley station is an FAA station that supplies the Air Force with data. Should that lease not be renewed, then it may be that the Point Arena station will be deemed essential once again.
What would actually be for sale at Point Arena is also a little murky. Like the Mill Valley station, the Point Arena Station is also leased. It is owned by Dick Holmes of Point Arena, and was leased around 1950 to the Air Force for 99 years. Whether Holmes would approve a lease transfer is another dependency that must be considered.
Discussions are likely to be extensive before the station ever changes hands.
John Roskie, an electronic mechanic with the Air Force, came to the base in 1983. The first thing Roskie was told was that the base would be closed in a couple of years. He is still there.
"Most base closures," said Roskie, "are government hype." Changes are made, new faces appear, and another agency may foot the bill, he said. For instance, the Air Force used to foot the bill at Point Arena; now NASA does.
But he says it could happen. Currently there are 30 employees at the Point Arena station, but they are never certain. The only information they get is "hearsay," he said.
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