US Navy, Electeds, Dragging Feet
Over Hunters Point Shipyard Toxic Cleanup?

Written by FCJ Editor. Posted in Opinion, Politics

Published on June 03, 2009 with No Comments

By Eric Smith and Arthur Feinstein, special to FogCityJournal.com

June 3, 2009

Last year, San Francisco voters approved Proposition G to allow the City to set forth on the largest development project that San Franciscans have seen in quite some time. Mayor Gavin Newsom spearheaded the proposition by promising jobs, affordable housing, and new life to the economically-challenged Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood. The proposal calls for 300 acres of park space, 10,000 new housing units, retail, a new 49ers stadium and over 2 million square feet of other commercial and industrial development.

But, when you’re talking about building on one of the most contaminated pieces of property in the state — it’s easier said then done. The Hunters Point Shipyard has a long legacy in San Francisco, making its initial footprint as the first dry dock on the west coast in 1869. Over the years, the Shipyard was used as a ship building, a repair and maintenance facility, a submarine repair site, and as a landfill for radioactive and toxic waste.

After the Navy shut down its operations at the shipyard, the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood began to deteriorate. Unemployment, poverty, and crime skyrocketed. The Navy jumped ship on the community and left behind a radioactive toxic waste dump that has continued to plague the Southeastern portion of the City to this day.

The Shipyard has not only impaired the health of the neighborhood residents, but it has also damaged the health of the San Francisco Bay. It’s adjacent to a state park and lies on the edge of the water. Water contamination and damage to the Bay’s sensitive ecosystem have certainly occurred in the past and are probably still occurring now as this is article is being written.

In 2000, voters responded to the Navy’s years of complacency by mandating the cleanup of the Shipyard to the highest standard. In a city with politics as divisive as the 49ers and Cowboys rivalry, it’s unheard of to have a proposition pass by 86% of the vote, but that’s exactly what happened.

Unfortunately, it has been nearly 10 years since the passage of Proposition P and while the Navy has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on cleaning up much of the Shipyard, it has not yet lived up to its end of the bargain on the most contaminated area of the Shipyard called Parcel E2 – and there appears to be little pressure from our own Mayor to hold them to the will of the voters to do so.

Parcel E2 is the site of the Navy’s industrial dump, that infamous mass of contaminants that caught fire in 2000 and continued to burn underground for six months. The Navy is currently looking at a number of proposals to clean up this area but, sadly, its preferred solution is to merely put a cap on this contaminated parcel and hand it over to the City. This is an unlined dump and putting a cap on top will not stop ground water (or even the rising bay waters themselves) from interacting with the contaminants, nor provide a remedy if an earthquake shatters the cap.

This is unacceptable. The Navy created this mess and it’s our City’s elected officials’ responsibility to hold them accountable. Environmental mediation and superfund clean- up both received major funding in the recent federal stimulus package. In a city that prides itself as a bastion of green practices, it’s time for the Mayor to stand up to the Navy and demand full removal of all the industrial dump at parcel E2. And it is time for Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Dianne Feinstein to support the Mayor in this demand and to use their congressional appropriating powers, as they have done before, to draw down the necessary funds to fully clean up the waste so that San Francisco’s newest neighborhood can be developed on toxic-free land.

As made evident with the passage of Prop G, most people agree that a revitalized Hunters Point Shipyard can be a godsend to the community. Jobs, affordable housing, parks and retail will all benefit the community, but for all that to happen the contaminants at Parcel E2 must go.

Eric Smith is a member of the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard Restoration Advisory Board and Arthur Feinstein is the Vice Chair of the Executive Committee of the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club.

More Info

US Navy Base Realignment and Closure