Fake soil tests delay SF Shipyard project

Fake soil tests delay SF Shipyard project


Gabriella Angotti-Jones, The Chronicle

Sean Sullivan plays with his dog, Fergus, last year at a park at the S.F. Shipyard, which is being transformed into a mixed-use neighborhood that will include thousands of housing units.

The transfer of some parcels at San Francisco Shipyard to the city for development will be delayed by at least a year after employees of a contractor cleaning up the property admitted faking soil tests, a Navy spokesman confirms.

Derek Robinson, the environmental coordinator for the U.S. Navy’s Base Realignment and Closure program at Hunters Point, said a group of six consultants is reviewing all the soil testing on the the former naval shipyard, which closed in 1994. It is being developed by FivePoint Communities into a sprawling mixed-use neighborhood with more than 12,000 housing units, hundreds of acres of parkland and millions of square feet of office space.

“We want to resolve these issues as soon as possible and transfer the property to the city as soon as possible,” said Robinson, who is an employee of the Navy.

Concern over the accuracy of the soil tests first emerged in October 2012, when the Navy discovered that some results were inconsistent with results from previous samples collected in the same areas. While the dirt in question was identified as having been collected from beneath a former lab used to conduct radiation tests on animals, an internal investigation by the contractor doing the cleanup, Tetra Tech, found that in at least 386 cases it had been pulled from areas already given a clean bill for radiological contamination.

That prompted Tetra Tech to retest 12 additional areas of the 420-acre property, and more contaminated soil was discovered. The contractor has since cleaned up those areas.

While Navy and Environmental Protection Agency officials thought the problems had been taken care of, they cropped up again last year when Anthony Smith, a former Tetra Tech employee, revealed in an interview with television station KNTV that the soil misrepresentations were more widespread than previously thought.

“We had done a completed review of the data in question, but Mr. Smith brought up specific areas that allowed us to look at it a little differently,” Robinson said.

About 50 acres have been transferred to the city so far, including Parcel A, where 150 housing units have been completed, sold and occupied, and another 180 are either under construction or will be in the next year. Robinson emphasized that the area where the condos are was never used for industrial purposes by the Navy.

“We want to make sure people understand that if they are living in Hunters Point, it is 100 percent safe,” Robinson said. “Nobody who works there or lives there has anything to fear from anything that was left behind by the Navy.”

The next three parcels to be transferred — B, G, and D1 — are expected to be handed to the city next year. The Navy is now doing additional analysis on those parcels.

Officials for Tetra Tech, which over the last 20 years has been awarded more than $300 million in contracts to clean up the former naval shipyard, did not return a call seeking comment.

While the Navy is the lead agency responsible for the investigation and cleanup, the EPA and its state regulatory agency oversee and enforce compliance with the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, commonly called the Superfund law.

“The EPA is taking the allegations regarding Tetra Tech EC very seriously,” EPA spokeswoman Michele Huitric said.

The Navy will host a public meeting Wednesday to explain the soil-sampling misrepresentations and its plan to resolve the questionable data.

The 420-acre shipyard was one of the nation’s most notorious Superfund sites, home to a federal nuclear program begun in 1946 that included a secret laboratory where tests were conducted to determine the effects of radiation on living organisms. Military equipment and ships contaminated by atomic bomb explosions were kept at Hunters Point, and the grounds were polluted with petroleum fuels, pesticides, heavy metals, PCBs, organic compounds and asbestos.

FivePoint Communities Regional President Kofi Bonner said that the soil testing problem is an issue “between the Navy and the regulators, for the most part.”

“They are working through ensuring for themselves that Tetra Tech has not created issues in the cleanup,” said Bonner. “Obviously, we applaud that. From our point of view it is absolutely imperative that the Navy clean the property up to the level that was promised to the community.”

Bonner said that the delayed land transfer to the city would not change the development schedule. FivePoint first needs to build replacement spaces for artists’ studios before starting on the next phase of construction, which will be more housing.

Residents are anxious for information, said longtime resident Yolanda Jones.

“As a resident of Bayview-Hunters Point, there is still a lot more to be told about what is actually out here in the ground and in the environment,” Jones said. “The redevelopment has been positive — it’s brought in development and the hiring of local people. It’s given the community new meaning. But am I convinced the shipyard is free of toxins? Not quite. The jury is still out.”

In recent months, Supervisor Malia Cohen, who represents the neighborhood, and Mayor Ed Lee have pushed the Navy and the EPA to make sure all the Tetra Tech soil data has been reviewed as soon as possible.

“This is a big deal for the entire city, whether people are paying attention to it or not,” Cohen said. “We are not going to accept the transfer of any land until the federal and state regulators can assure us that the land is clean and safe.”

J.K. Dineen is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: jdineen@sfchronicle.com” style=”text-decoration: underline; color: rgb(65, 110, 210); max-width: 100%;”>jdineen@sfchronicle.com

Twitter: @SFJKDineen

Public meeting

The Navy will hold a public meeting on the shipyard soil questions from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Storehouse, 451 Galvez Ave., in San Francisco.

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