Aug 4, 2023 - News

Dallas files complaint against U.S. government over former Navy base

This master plan can't happen until Hensley Field is clean. Image: Rendering by McCann Adams Studio for the City of Dallas

The City of Dallas is seeking damages from the federal government for failing to clean up environmental contamination at a former Navy airfield the city wants to redevelop for housing.

Driving the news: Dallas filed a complaint with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims this week alleging that the federal government breached its contract to clean the groundwater and land the U.S. Navy used for 50 years.

Why it matters: The City Council approved a master plan in December that reimagines the 738-acre plat in southwest Dallas, near the border of Grand Prairie, as a neighborhood with up to 7,000 housing units, 7.5 miles of trails, acres of parkland, and retail space.

  • None of that can happen until the contaminated property is restored to residential standards.

Threat level: The Navy used Hensley Field for pilot and firefighter training. The fire suppressants used during training led to the "forever chemicals" found there today.

  • The site is contaminated with chlorinated solvents and PFAS, a combination of synthetic compounds that don't easily degrade over time and can be toxic to humans.
  • Plus, there were several fuel spills during the Navy's use, including one in the early 1970s that resulted in 20,000 gallons of jet fuel flowing into a creek.

Catch up fast: The city first filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government in 2001, claiming a breach of contract. The city and the government reached an agreement the following year, requiring the Navy to clean up the property within 15 years.

  • In June this year, city leaders wrote in a memo that they were still negotiating with the Navy to find a "long-term resolution" to ensure the contamination on the property is cleaned.

Flashback: Dallas bought the land for Hensley Field in 1928 to construct runways for the Army Air Corps to use because of increasing commercial traffic at Dallas Love Field.

  • By 1937, the adjacent Mountain Creek Lake was formed to act as a cooling reservoir for a utility company.
  • The site was used for manufacturing military aircraft during World War II.
  • The Navy took control of the property in 1949 until it closed the base by 1999.

What they're saying: "We are confident that we can reach an agreement on the final phase of the project that ensures Hensley Field can be safely developed into a premier community," city manager T.C. Broadnax said in a statement.

  • The other side: "The Navy does not comment on matters of pending litigation," a spokesperson told Axios.

The bottom line: City leaders say the planned redevelopment will "promote economic recovery, social equity, and environmental justice" in southwestern Dallas.


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