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Apr-18-2010 23:11printcomments

Cleanup at Hunters Point Stirring Controversy

Getting the entire shipyard up to rigid residential standards will take more review, and will take longer to accomplish, but some local residents believe this is the only way to ensure their safety.

Different views of Hunters Point over the years.
Different views of Hunters Point over the years.

(SAN FRANCISCO) - The long wait to clean up the Hunter's Point Naval Shipyard will continue.

In the past, the site was used by the U.S. Navy for nuclear weapons research and radioactive laboratory operations when the effects of such activities were unknown.

Most of the shipyard, closed in 1991, is still owned by the Navy. In order for the land to be transferred to city ownership, the area must undergo drastic cleanup operations to rid the soil and groundwater of various residue and chemicals.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the area has been deemed a Superfund site--an area in need of cleanup due to the storage of hazardous materials--which will provide a $50,000 Technical Assistance Grant to aid in the development of a cleanup process.

But how to go about cleaning the area has proven to be a difficult task. The 936-acre area, including parts underwater, is contaminated with different substances, such as lead, asbestos and radionuclides. In order to look at areas individually, it has been broken into different parcels ranging from A-G, to be researched and inspected by the EPA and Navy.

"The process has taken so long for many reasons," said Mark Ripperda, site manager from the EPA. "First is money, this is a complicated site to investigate and clean up.

Other reasons for the time is that because it is complicated, with significant public interest, the Navy must carefully document every step of the investigation, and work with and respond to comments from both the regulators and public on every draft and draft final version of every document."

The Navy and EPA have worked with community groups and lawmakers to make sure citizens are aware of the dangers, though there continues to be speculation regarding what toxins are out there.

"There are no easy answers here," said Alex Lantsberg, a member of the India Basin Neighborhood Association. "We are here to provide information to focus an engaging debate on the facts. We want the highest levels of cleanup."

IBNA has been involved in the review process of the Navy's cleanup plans, trying to make the rest of their community aware of just what is happening and how the process works.

"Just proceed and do the cleanup," said Lantsberg, who lives in the area. "It was shut down in 1974. We knew about contaminants in the early 1980s, and we've been cleaning it for how long now? We know shipyard has brighter days in the future; we just need to get there."

The intricate process means that the cleanup will continue for years to come.

One area of concern lies in an area called Parcel G, the proposed site of not only residential homes, but a new 49ers stadium. The Navy has concluded that the 40-acre site is ready for transfer to the city, pending local comments on their decision.

The soil has been tested and the proposed remedy is to remove most of the native soil, replacing it with clean soil, then adding a layer of asphalt on the surface. This method, called capping, will be the responsibility of the Navy to maintain, and they claim it will make the area safe for residents.

While the Navy supports this idea, not everyone is on board. According to Matt Hagemann, technical advisor for the grant program, the asphalt will last 10 to 15 years and after that it will need more frequent maintenance.

Another issue lies in just how clean the area will be.

Some parcels are slated for only industrial use, while others are required to be up to the highest standards of residential safety.

Getting the entire shipyard up to rigid residential standards will take more review, and will take longer to accomplish, but some local residents believe this is the only way to ensure their safety.

In addition, cleaning the shipyard to the strict residential standards will require more money, more staff and more pollution.

Another fear is that by excavating the soil, they could dig up more harmful chemicals that will be released into the air.

Michael McGowan, staff scientist at Arc Ecology, has studied the area and works with Community Window on the Hunter's Point Shipyard to disseminate accurate information to the community about the concerns at hand.

"The overall reaction seems to be confusion about what is contaminated and the effects of airborne contamination from the cleanup," he said. "There is misinformation that health problems are the direct cause of contaminants, while most are low-level or underground. The facts don't always match up."

Between the Navy and locals, there seems to be no answer.

"I believe you can do both; clean the area to the standards that puts community at ease, and still build and have the benefits of new housing and the stadium," said Eric Smith, who is running for District 10 supervisor.

"There just isn't the money or political will, it's going to take a lot more than a handful of local activists to fight this uphill battle," he said. "It's heartbreaking."

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Special thanks to: Golden Gate [X]Press

Sarah Chase is a Staff Writer with Golden Gate [X]Press. You can send Sarah an email at: scchase@sfsu.edu




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