transfer occurred despite three layers of review from federal,
state, and local environmental and public-health regulators.
of those agencies were aware at that time of a widening
falsification scandal that, one year later, halted all land
transfers at the shipyard, an EPA Superfund site that’s the location
redevelopment projectin San Francisco since
the 1906 earthquake.
insist that neither the transfer nor the work done at the
land—including repairs to the durable cover supposed to keep
existing contamination in place—pose any risk to worker or public
that declaration was first made in 2016, before a later review
Tech, a major contractor hired by the Navy to clean the
shipyard and prepare it for development, may have faked nearly half
of the $250 million worth of work done throughout the shipyard,
including the cleanup at the two parcels in question.
Navy is responsible for determining if the land—a strip of mostly
paved roadway in front of buildings that house artists’ studios and
a commercial kitchen used by food trucks—is still contaminated, and
if it is, for cleaning it.
currently no timeline for when that may happen, a Navy spokesman
said in an emailed statement.
for the Navy, EPA, and the city’s Office of Community Investment and
Infrastructure did not directly address questions as to how the city
received potentially dirty land. For environmental watchdogs, the
transfer reveals what they say are deep flaws in the process at the
shipyard—the planned anchor of a new neighborhood that’s supposed to
needed housing units—that they say prioritize redevelopment over
concerns for public health and safety.
Tech was able to present findings to the Navy showing the areas were
clean. These claims were made based on data that a later review
found to be obviously flawed—but also presented in a context where
other Tetra Tech data was known to be questionable.
Navy then presented those findings to the federal EPA, stateDepartment
of Toxic Substances Control, and local Department of Public
Health. No regulators raised concerns, according to a review of
documents filed prior to the transfer. These documents show no
mention of even the possibility of problems on these parcels,
despite knowledge of the widening scandal with Tetra Tech’s work.
while the land transfers were halted, the city’s Office of Community
and Investment and Infrastructure hired an engineering firm to make
an argument to relax existing land-use restrictions in order to
place more housing at the shipyard, documents show.
say this series of events raises serious questions about the
effectiveness of federal and local oversight at the contentious
project—oversight that may be even weaker in the future, with an
understaffed Trump administration-era EPA—and whether that oversight
ever amounted to more than a rubber stamp at best.
far as I can tell” that’s what it was, said David Anton, an
environmental lawyer representing several former Tetra Tech workers
and contractors at the shipyard, whose whistleblower complaints
broke the scandal open. “I have not seen them do anything on their
own to confirm health and safety aspects at all.”
should be alarmed, and outraged, that the apparent fraud was so
widespread and included areas already transferred from the Superfund
Site to the city,” said Bradley Angel, executive director ofGreenaction,
an environmental nonprofit that’s closely monitored the shipyard
should be even further outraged that city, state, and federal
government agencies said for years that they had verified the
adequacy of the cleanup work at the Shipyard when we now know
massive fraud took place,” he added. “Why did government agencies
keep saying that everything was fine even after they knew that fraud
presidents and five mayors have come and gone since the
redevelopment process began at the shipyard, a fist-shaped peninsula
in the city’s southeastern corner. From World War II until its
closure in 1974,Hunters
Point Naval Shipyardwas a key Cold War-era
military installation and an irreplaceable source of jobs for the
surrounding neighborhood, which is heavily African-American.
the changing administrations and even into the widening alleged
fraud scandal, local and federal elected officials and authorities
have stayed on message. No land at the shipyard—where the Navy ran a
nuclear warfare research lab and dumped radioactive material into
landfills, the bay, and down storm drains—would be transferred
unless it was guaranteed to be clean, they vowed.
Francisco will not accept the transfer of any land until federal and
state regulators are satisfied that the land is clean and safe, and
our own Department of Public Health validates that decision,” wrote
Leeand Supervisor Malia Cohen in a
September 2016 letter to then-EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.
shipyard is divided into alphanumeric parcels. Lee and Cohen sent
the letter almost exactly one year after San Francisco accepted two
parcels called UC-1 and UC-2, for “utility corridor.”
seven acres in size total, the parcels are down the hill from the
area where developer FivePoint has built and sold about 300 occupied
to Navy documents, toxic threats there stemmed from storm and sewer
lines, down which the Navy would routinely flush waste from tests.
Potential contaminants included cesium, strontium, thorium, cobalt,
plutonium, radium, and uranium.
2011, Tetra Tech claimed to have removed 876 cubic yards of soil
contaminated with “low-level radioactive waste” that was later
shipped off-site. The company then say they installed a “hard cap”
consisting of soil and asphalt to keep in place other existing
potentially toxic vapors from the soil.
on these claims, in 2015, the Navy offered the land for transfer to
the city. After the transfer, a local contractor,Albion
Partners, was hired to perform minor repair work at the sites,
including pothole repair and some fixes to the “hard cap,” which was
cracking in places and had been disturbed by “burrowing animals,”
according to a work plan filed with regulators.
2014, the Navy awarded the company a pair of contracts “totaling
$7.5 million” for more shipyard work, according toNBC
that time, environmental regulators—including the EPA and state
Department of Toxic Substances Control—were queried about the fraud
allegations by NBC but declined to comment.
summer and fall, third-party contractors hired by the Navy to review
Tetra Tech’s data found widespread evidence of possible
“falsification and data manipulation” throughout the shipyard,
according to a draft report for their findings, including at the two
UC parcels. At one—UC-2—potential fraud was found with 75 percent of
Tetra Tech’s work.
with potentially elevated radionuclide concentrations are likely
still present” at both sites, according to the Navy’s data review.
an emailed statement provided to Curbed SF, the Navy did not offer
an explanation for the apparent breakdown in its process.
Navy will continue to work with City of San Francisco and regulatory
agencies to validate any potentially falsified radiological data and
take appropriate action, if necessary, to ensure the property is
ready for redevelopment,” the statement said. “The investigation
will gather new soil samples and building survey data to ensure
parcels are ready for transfer, and or development by the City of
EPA would not say directly what risks may be posed by any potential
contamination remaining on-site. Nor did it directly account for how
potentially contaminated land evaded its oversight.
an e-mailed statement, Michele Huitric, a spokeswoman for the EPA,
said that the agency “is still investigating the impacts of Tetra
Tech EC Inc.’s failure to follow the cleanup work plan at Hunters
Point Naval Shipyard,” but believes that the cleanup poses no
threat, despite the questionable work.
focus is on ensuring both that no current workers or residents are
exposed to hazardous materials and that future residents and workers
are protected,” she added. “We believe that current procedures and
protocols will protect current workers and residents, and we are
working with the Navy and the state of California on plans to ensure
that any radiological contamination that may remain on-site is
cleaned up to the standards set in the cleanup decision documents.”
an e-mailed statement, a spokesman for the city’s Office of
Community Investment and Infrastructure, which is overseeing the
shipyard project, steered responsibility towards the Navy.
city has not and will not accept property until it is determined to
be suitable for its intended uses,” wrote Maximilian Barnes, an OCII
project associate. That’s a small but significant pivot from the
language used in 2016 by Lee, who declared the city would not accept
land that wasn’t guaranteed “clean and safe.”
noted that the EPA and Navy declared the land safe to be used as a
road, parking area, and storage, he noted, adding “[t]he issue of
the questionable data was raised after transfer.” In response to
further questions regarding the process, Barnes advised Curbed SF to
“kindly direct your questions” to the EPA and Navy.
environmental watchdogs, regulatory oversight at the shipyard is an
exercise in doublespeak, evasion, and—ultimately—concerted
[the city] say they will not accept land that is not clean, but then
say they have land they now suspect is not clean,” said David Anton,
the environmental attorney representing the whistleblowers. “They
should have the Navy take it back until it is clean.”
what happens if they can never get it clean?” he asked. “That’s