What is happening at China Lake?

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

What is happening at China Lake?For 10 weeks the news cycle has been dominated by the crisis of a lifetime. What began as drastic lockdowns ordered by public officials in order to reduce outbreaks of the COVID-19 pandemic has morphed into a debate about how to mitigate risk without killing the economy and those who depend on commercial operations in order to survive.

But noticeably quiet in our town is any public messaging from the base, the single engine that accounts for 86 percent of our economy. Boilerplate communications have continued to circulate on social media, but any other insight into how — and if — China Lake has been impacted by the virus has been contained.

Even before the pandemic took hold, China Lake was in a state of flux as the $3-billion earthquake recovery effort kicked off in February.

On April 24, the News Review received permission to email questions that would be forwarded to higher-ups in Navy leadership. While the corresponding names, ranks and titles were not provided, we received a reply this week.

For questions relating to the percentage of workforce qualified as essential, who was on site and who was teleworking, responses could not be provided “for the safety and security of our workforce and installation.”

However, officials confirmed that “construction projects for our key infrastructure and mission are authorized to continue.”

Those projects at the Naval Air Weapons Station are considered essential, though “COVID-19 has created an ever-changing environment wherein we are operating. We will continue to monitor risks to the health of the workforce both government and contractor as the situation develops.”

The tenants have also increased hygiene and sanitation protocols, according to guidance from the Secretary of Defense and the CDC, and teleworking continues to be used when necessary.

On Saturday, May 16, the IWV Economic Development Corp., led by Executive Director Scott O’Neil, shared with EDC members a more comprehensive update on the effort to rebuild after the earthquake.

In his column O’Neil noted that the Navy has partnered with the IWVEDC, the city, China Lake Alliance and other community organizations to provide support to the thousands of contractors expected to visit over the next three to five years as the recovery effort proceeds.

“The Navy is on or slightly ahead of schedule regarding the awarding of major reconstruction projects,” wrote O’Neil. A wave of requests for proposal went out May 6. Contractors are expected to build their bids over the next 90-100 days.

Some $984 million in contracts are expected to be awarded in September, with the work beginning in January.

The estimated $282 million contract for Michelson Laboratory is expected to be awarded in July, with construction beginning in December.

“Many will be visiting Ridgecrest over the next couple of months to gather information.”

O’Neil said that collaborative efforts in the community continue to assess food service, healthcare, educational, housing, materials and other needs that will arise during the recovery effort.

“We are working not only to anticipate the type of questions and requests for information we might get, but also to develop our process so we can ensure each contractor receives the same information.”

Pictured: Capt. Paul Dale, commanding officer of NAWS, shows State Sen. Shannon Grove some of the damage following last summer’s earthquakes. — Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2020-05-22