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Air Force completes public transfer of former Castle AFB

WASHINGTON -- The Air Force completed the transfer of the former Castle Air Force Base, Calif., from military control to private ownership Jan. 22 with one of the base's former housing areas being accepted by a retirement village.

Atwater Retirement Village II, LLC, accepted the final parcel of property, completing a process that began when Castle AFB closed in September 1995.

Portions of the 2,777-acre base were transferred by deed to private ownership over the years with the largest portion, nearly 1,900 acres, going to the Merced County Board of Supervisors Dec. 19, 2006.

Castle AFB, a former Strategic Air Command installation once home to B-52 Stratofortress bombers, was selected for closure during the Base Realignment and Closure round of 1991. Since closure, the Air Force Real Property Agency was charged with the environmental cleanup of the former base and making the property available for reuse. Agency officials worked closely with regulatory agencies and the people of Atwater and Merced to reach these goals.

"The transfer is not only important for the Air Force, but also for the local community as well," said Dexter Cochnauer, senior representative at AFRPA's Western Regional Execution Center in Sacramento, Calif. "The community can take advantage of former Air Force assets to spark economic growth."

The former Castle AFB is home to a variety of businesses, plus a Federal Bureau of Prisons facility, a University of California campus and an air museum. The County of Merced, which is the local redevelopment authority for the former base, has plans for further redevelopment at the base to include reuse of the airfield as an airport, construction of new educational facilities, residential development and bringing in new businesses.

"The county has very ambitious plans for redevelopment," Mr. Cochnauer said. "It will be interesting to come back in a few years and see how much Castle has changed."

AFRPA has also made significant progress with the environmental cleanup of Castle AFB. Working alongside the Environmental Protection Agency and the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, the Air Force signed the final Record of Decision, outlining the cleanup of soil and groundwater sites on the base, in July 2006. The local Restoration Advisory Board, which provided community input on the cleanup, formally adjourned this month, satisfied by the progress at the base.

"Everyone is extremely pleased with the cleanup progress at Castle," said Phil Mook, AFRPA's lead environmental engineer for Castle AFB's cleanup program. "All major decisions are made, the groundwater treatment is operating properly and successfully, and we're on the homestretch toward site closeout."

While all property at the former Castle AFB is now transferred, the Air Force remains responsible for the last bit of cleanup, with no current threat to human health.
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