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City supervisor calls for hearing on Hunters Point Shipyard cleanup

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Supervisor Malia Cohen on Tuesday called for a hearing on the cleanup at the Hunters Point Shipyard. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner) Examiner)

Supervisor Malia Cohen on Tuesday called for a hearing on the data falsification scandal that has emerged from the decades-long effort to redevelop the Hunters Point Shipyard.

Cohen’s request came after documents released last week revealed that a review by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found almost all of the soil samples taken from two contaminated shipyard sites that were deemed as safe by Tetra Tech — the former U.S. Navy contractor that was tasked with the shipyard’s cleanup — had been compromised.

“I have families reaching out with questions about air quality. I have people asking about how to get out of their leases because they are concerned about the lives and safety of their families,” said Cohen, adding that the Navy “has done an exceptionally poor job [at] communicating with the public.”

Calling the data falsification an “environmental injustice of a huge proportion,” Cohen said that she was most upset by the lack of accountability on part of the Navy and Tetra Tech.

“No one has paid a fine, faced criminal charges for fraud, or appeared before this board to defend the bogus action of falsifying [the testing],” said Cohen.

Environmental advocates said that action on the testing fraud is “long overdue,” and allege that city leaders shirked addressing issues at Hunters Point while pushing for the redevelopment plans, which include 12,000 new homes.

“Quite honestly, the Board of Supervisors and City Hall…have done everything in their power not to discuss this,” said Bradley Angel, executive director of Greenaction, adding that his organization is “curious to see the scope of what that hearing will be.”

The U.S. Navy operated the site as a shipyard until 1974, using it to clean ships exposed to atom bombs and for research on defense against nuclear weapons.

In 1989, the heavily contaminated shipyard was designated as an EPA Superfund site, giving it priority as one of the most toxic cleanup sites in the nation.

The city first adopted a redevelopment plan for the shipyard in 1997. Whistleblowers came forward in 2012 with allegations that their superiors at Tetra Tech had ordered them to fake soil samples in an effort to speed up the $1 billion cleanup.

In 2014, an investigation by the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit found that the Navy was aware of mishandling of data and fake testing by Tetra Tech employees, triggering an investigation by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The revelations lead to the firm shifting blame on to low-level employees and recleaning the sites in question, according to Bradley Angel, executive director of environmental advocacy group Greenaction.

The Navy has since parted with Tetra Tech, after former employees alleged that contaminated samples were swapped for clean ones, among other things.

In September, an internal review by the Navy determined that 49 percent and 15 percent of soil samples taken from a sites known as parcels G and B, respectively, were in need of retesting. But those figures were disputed by a review from the EPA, which found that 97 percent of soil samples from Parcel G and 90 percent of samples from Parcel B were compromised.

Angel said that the recent reviews by both the U.S. Navy and the EPA appear to corroborate allegations made by former Tetra Tech employees and their advocates over the last six years. In July 2017, Greenaction filed a petition with the NRC to revoke Tetra Tech’s license, but Angel said that “nothing has happened” to that end.

Despite lingering doubts about health hazards at the Shipyard, “mayor after mayor” has “pushed this [housing] project, allegedly to fill San Francisco’s very real need for affordable housing,” said Angel.

Land deemed safe for development has been transferred to developer FivePoint in stages, although that process was halted in 2016 as a result of the allegations. The two sites in question make up over 40 percent of the 450-acre Shipyard slated for a massive mixed-use development — Parcel G was set to be transferred at the end of this year.

Others at City Hall have also declared their commitment to seeking accountability.

Supervisor Jane Kim, a candidate for mayor in the June election, co-sponsored Cohen’s hearing request on Tuesday. Her district includes Treasure Island, which is also slated for redevelopment. Treasure Island has also been subjected to radioactive contamination and similar testing by Tetra Tech and other environmental testing firms, including TestAmerica.

At the behest of environmental advocates, Kim’s legislative aide, Ivy Lee, said on Tuesday that the supervisor is “happy to call for an independent investigation to confirm the quality of the cleanup on Treasure Island,” and her staff is expected to meet with the director of the Treasure Island Development Agency next week “to discuss next steps.”

On Monday, Board of Supervisors President London Breed, also a mayoral candidate, told the San Francisco Examiner at an editorial board meeting that if elected to the position, she would “definitely lead the effort and make sure there is accountability and go after the folks who committed fraud.”

Also on Monday, some 30 members of the public workers advocacy group United Public Workers for Action rallied outside of the federal building at 450 Golden Gate Ave., urging that criminal investigations be launched against Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Diane Feinstein. They alleged that the legislators failed to protect whistleblowers from retaliation and failing to address the fraud allegations, among other things.

“They were presented with this information [from the whistleblowers], with documentation, and they ignored it,” said Steve Zeltzer, a member of the group. “All these whistleblowers are being fired, victimized, oppressed, and none of these city [and state] officials [stepped in].”

Bay City News contributed to this report.

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