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US Navy to investigate possible data fraud in Hunters Point Shipyard cleanup

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A sign warns of toxic landfill at a construction site near Hunters Point Naval Shipyard in October 2016. (Dan Chambers/2016 Special to S.F. Examiner)
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The U.S. Navy announced Tuesday that it will re-examine all data produced by a contractor hired to clean up the contaminated Hunters Point Naval Shipyard after an internal investigation revealed that nearly half of the soil samples produced over the past decade have potentially been falsified or manipulated.

For more than two decades, the shipyard was the site of a radiological defense laboratory and used as grounds for dumping of radioactive materials. Slated for development into market-rate and affordable housing, it has been subject to a systematic cleanup by contracting companies hired by the Navy, including the Pasadena-based company Tetra Tech.

Redevelopment of the 450-acre shipyard into 12,000 housing units housing, as well as commercial and office space, is already underway. The land has been transferred to developer FivePoint in stages, and luxury condominiums have risen on parcels deemed as safe for development.

The land transfer process was halted in 2016, however, when allegations surfaced of widespread fraud, including the swapping of soil samples, by former Tetra Tech workers.

SEE RELATED: Cleanup investigation, escalating costs raise questions for Hunters Point Shipyard redevelopment

“We looked into [the allegations] and found that [a good portion] of the information was credible,” said Derek Robinson, the Navy’s environmental coordinator for the project, on Tuesday. Following those allegations, the Navy assembled a team of experts from “five different companies” to “do a re-evaluation of all the data.”

A preliminary investigation conducted by the Navy’s technical team has cast new and serious doubts on more than half of the samples taken from property worked on by Tetra Tech, including 300,000 cubic yards of soil, more than 30 former building sites, 20 buildings and some 28 miles of trench lines.

The Navy’s retesting of Tetra Tech data could put another dent in the timeline of the new housing development.

The transfer of a 90-acre parcel of land, which was set for the end of this year, could be delayed for at least a year following inconsistencies found in 44 percent of the samples produced by Tetra Tech in that area.

The land, known as Parcel G, is described by FivePoint as a “beautiful open park surrounded by mixed-use development of residential, office and neighborhood retail.”

In a quarterly report published by FivePoint late last year, the developer addressed a potential delay in the timeline of the transfer of the shipyard’s remaining 408 acres:

“We had previously expected the U.S. Navy to deliver approximately 90 acres in 2018 and the balance in 2019 through 2022. However, allegations that a contractor hired by the U.S. Navy misrepresented its sampling results at The San Francisco Shipyard have resulted in data reevaluation and governmental investigations and are likely to delay the transfer of the 90 acres that we had expected to receive in 2018.”

FivePoint stated that, according to an updated timeline, it expects the U.S. Navy to “deliver the parcels in phases between 2019 and 2022,” adding that the ongoing investigation could “impede our future development of such parcels.”

Robinson said the Navy has hired a team of outside contractors to do “sampling, radiological scanning and additional excavations” of not just the areas that produced flawed data, but all areas in which Tetra Tech has conducted work since 2006.

“All together about half of the samples taken by Tetra over 12 years were recommended for resampling because of data inconsistencies,” said Robinson, adding that the data inconsistencies don’t “necessarily mean they were falsified” but that there is “potential” for fraud.

“We lost confidence in Tetra Tech data and we need new data to show that the site is either safe or not safe,” he said.

Tetra Tech’s work was first called into question in 2012, when the Navy found inconsistencies with soil samples, Robinson said.

“This was a red flag,” he said, adding that the Navy initially worked with Tetra Tech to address some 386 falsified soil samples. “They redid that work on their own dime — we thought at that time that it was taken care of.”

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