Navy’s retesting plan for Hunters Point Shipyard cleanup released

The U.S. Navy has hired two contractors to resurvey and oversee retesting on the first of several sites on the Hunters Point Shipyard, where a fraudulent toxic cleanup has cast doubts on the safety of nearby residents and the viability of future development slated at the former naval base.

Internal reviews by the Navy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency made public earlier this year found that up to 97 percent of soil samples verified as free of contaminants by Navy contractor Tetra Tech on a 40-acre swath of land known as Parcel G may have been compromised or intentionally falsified.

Details on how the botched cleanup will proceed were released by the Navy Friday in a highly anticipated work plan that is limited to Parcel G. The public will have 60-days from the plan’s release, or until August 14, to weigh in.

According to a Navy spokesperson, the resampling is expected to last 3-6 months and could launch in the fall. A cost estimate can be expected once the work plan is finalized.

“Parcel G is the priority parcel [for] The City and will serve as a model parcel for work plans to follow for subsequent areas,” said Laura Duchnak, director of the Navy’s Base Realignment and Closure Program, adding that the Navy has “hired an independent contractor to oversee the work and verify the results.”

Data irregularities have been found in areas across the shipyard, which along with Candlestick Point is slated for development into more than 12,500 units of housing and 4 million square feet of commercial space. Concerns over falsified data extend to at least two parcels that have already been transferred to the City.

Community advocates, residents of the area — and more recently, City leaders — have called for the retesting of the entire shipyard, including Parcel A, which has been developed into some 300 homes that are largely occupied. Navy and City health officials have repeatedly argued that Parcel A is safe for habitation, citing its past use by the Navy as housing and administrative offices.

On Friday, Supervisor Malia Cohen, whose district includes the Shipyard, confirmed that the Navy has agreed to also retest Parcel A, with “dollars secured by Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi.”

According to Cohen, the Department of Public Health has agreed to perform the testing of Parcel A, which will begin in July. Cohen did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the scope of Parcel A’s retesting or whether a work plan will issued publicly.

On Parcel G, Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. will be tasked with resurveying buildings previously identified as radiologically impacted but stamped off as clean by Tetra Tech. Radiological excavations and soil sampling will also be conducted, although a contractor licensed to conduct that work has yet to be selected.

Battelle, an independent contractor, will oversee the retesting to ensure “the work is being done in accordance with project plans and the contractors’ radiological license,” according to a statement issued by the Navy.

Federal and state regulatory agencies, including the California Department of Public Health “will conduct independent sampling to confirm the results,” said Duchnak.

“We will be focusing on collecting data were Tetra Tech has previously done [the] radiological cleanup,” said Derek Robinson, the Navy’s environmental coordinator for the shipyard.

Tetra Tech — the civil engineering firm that from 2002 to 2016 spearheaded the shipyard’s radiological cleanup — is facing a multi-billion dollar lawsuit by Bayview Hunters Point residents over long-standing accusations of data falsification at the shipyard that came to a head last month when two former supervisors were sentenced to eight months in prison after pleading guilty to falsifying records.

In a bid to clear its name, Tetra Tech, which has denied wrongdoing, has offered to pay for independent retesting at the shipyard. On Wednesday, Duchnak said that the Navy is “still [engaging] with Tetra Tech regarding that offer.”

According to the Parcel G work plan, the resampling effort will include the scanning of the floors and walls of six buildings and the concrete pad of a demolished building. Building surfaces will be wiped with a specialized cloth to gather soil samples.

Following testing by Tetra Tech, the buildings were given clearance by state regulators including the Department of Toxic Substances Control and the Department of Public Health. Robinson confirmed that those “verifications have been rescinded.”

Tetra Tech on Friday issued a statement supporting the Navy’s plan to retest, saying the process would “put to rest false statements and misleading speculations promoted by plaintiffs who are motivated by financial self gain.”

“We stand by our work as valid, proper and safe,” Sam Singer, a spokesman for Tetra Tech, said in a statement. “We believe scientifically valid re-testing will demonstrate the company met the standards established by the Navy.”

The work plan also includes soil samples and trench excavation testing, in which former sanitary sewer and storm drain trenches, soil trenches and soil at “three former building sites and an exposed crawlspace under one existing building” will be re-examined.

Surface soil in identified areas will be scanned using walkover or drive-over scans, and core samples will be collected in “trenches beyond the trench floor,” according to the plan. Former utility corridors will be subject to trench soil sampling.

The former naval base served as a cleaning dock for ships returning from atomic bomb testing in the Pacific Ocean. It also housed a nuclear warfare research lab and was designated as a U.S. EPA Superfund Site in 1989, but that part of the shipyard’s history was not mentioned during a public bus tour of the site, led by Navy officials last weekend.

“We are spending the most dollars here at Hunters Point,” said Robinson, during Saturday’s tour, about the $1 billion cleanup. “It’s a real testament to our commitment to the [Bayview Hunters Point] community, to give them a piece of property for redevelopment that is safe.”

But many in that community said that they have long lost faith in the validity of the cleanup and integrity of the local, state and federal agencies involved.

Efforts to address the fraud to date have fallen short of expectations, according to dozens of environmental advocates and residents who attended a community-led hearing held to capture the concerns over the ongoing cleanup on Wednesday.

“I’m feeling that they cannot clean it up,” said a resident of Mariner’s Village, a hilltop housing project that overlooks the shipyard, who declined to give her name. “Because if they could, they could have done it a long time ago. I’m not trusting whoever they hire to clean it up.”

Another resident who gave his name as Alex said that he would like to see radiation exposure assessments made available to the local community “on someone else’s dime.”

Along with proper “testing of the entire shipyard,” attendees called for community oversight of the cleanup process, including the reinstatement of the Restorative Advisory Board, an oversight board comprised of community stakeholders that met regularly to discuss the cleanup and its health and environmental impacts, but was disbanded by the Navy years ago.

“I feel like they were lying to our faces, but at least they had to look at us and tell us why, so maybe we need to bring back local control over the RAB meetings,” said Jill Fox, a resident of the area who served on the RAB for six years.

But Robinson, of the Navy, said on Wednesday that “Right now, there are no plans for a community oversight board.”

lwaxmann@sfexaminer.com

Laura Waxmann
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