Fallout: The Past Is Present

The Nuclear Witnesses

The city cannot accept Parcel A until regulators say it's clean. Regulators won't sign off until the Navy takes care of problems in areas adjacent to Parcel A -- including the migration of methane gas out of a shipyard landfill (see "Burning Mad," Page 17). "The main focus for the conveyance agreement is the notion that we have to make sure that the adjacency issues are taken care of," says Jesse Blout, development director at the Mayor's Office of Business and Economic Development. "If we're going to accept and start developing property, we need to make sure that there aren't any lingering questions about risk."

Navy officials seem to have a different view of the situation.

"What is really holding up Parcel A is the conveyance agreement. Once that agreement is negotiated, then the Parcel A conveyance can go forward," says Foreman, the Navy's base closure and environmental coordinator.

After years of stalled negotiations, there has arguably been an increase in the exchange of information concerning the transfer of the shipyard to civilian control during the past several months. Higher-ranking military brass are now at the negotiating table, and Bayview community activists, with the help of Arc Ecology and other organizations, have become more assertive.

Still, no matter how badly the city of San Francisco wants to take control of the shipyard and make it into a 500-acre, mixed-use, bay-front development, the property can't be transferred until the Navy cleans it up.

And it will be difficult for the Navy to convince anyone that the property is clean until it can say, with some authority, what pollutants existed there. Supposedly definitive reports that are internally inconsistent, that don't match the memories of people who worked on the shipyard every day for decades, and that attempt to obscure reality with statistics are unlikely to be viewed as authoritative, by people in or out of the government.

The U.S. Navy's biggest problem at the former San Francisco Naval Shipyard at Hunters Point is one of credibility. The Navy has repeatedly failed to tell city officials, environmental regulators, and, perhaps most important, area residents about environmental hazards on the property.

One of the biggest revelations in the Historical Radiation Assessment the Navy released this year is a three-page list of 109 radioactive substances -- from those whose effects last only seconds to those that remain poisonous for thousands of years -- used at Hunters Point Shipyard. And that alone highlights a massive betrayal of trust: In the nearly three decades since the Navy left the shipyard, and during at least a decade of environmental cleanup, such an exhaustive list had never been produced.

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