Hunters Point Cleanup Finally Gets Political

At a four-hour hearing on the failed cleanup of Hunters Point, one basic question remained unanswered: Why was the fraud allowed to proceed for so long?

Marie Harrison, a Bayview resident and member of the environmental justice group Greenaction, speaks before a hearing on the ongoing cleanup at the Hunters Point shipyard Superfund site on Monday, May 14, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

In a highly-anticipated hearing on the mismanaged cleanup of radioactive waste at Hunters Point Shipyard, San Francisco supervisors repeatedly pressed representatives of the U.S. Navy and Environmental Protection Agency to drop the bureaucratic answers and commit to retesting nearby land.

Dodging specific promises, the bureaucracy largely prevailed. But not without knowing that San Francisco is closely watching the agencies that previously failed Bayview Hunters Point — and that they still have plenty of questions, like how this fraudulent fiasco was allowed to go on for so long.

For the uninitiated: The Navy contracted Tetra Tech at the steep price of $300 million to clean up its superfund site in Hunters Point, so it could be deemed safe for people to live there. But as far as 2012, the Navy found data falsified by the contractor and completed a review in September. Tetra Tech is now believed to have falsified up to 97 percent percent of its soil samples from a section of the former shipyard called Parcel G.

“As a regulator, your job is to notify us immediately,” Supervisor Malia Cohen, who represents the district, said at the hours-long hearing during Monday’s Land Use Committee meeting. “It feels like the Navy is constantly sweeping something under the rug.”

Laura Duchnak, director of the Navy’s Base Realignment and Closure Program, tried to assure supervisors that the surrounding land is safe and that their bureaucratic processes to ensure proper testing did indeed work.

“Parcel A is safe,” Duchnak told the supervisors, referring to area neighboring Parcel G. “I would live there. I would have my family live there.”

Cohen, who called the hearing in April, insisted the Navy retest soil on Parcel A, whose residents have come to her with desperate concerns for their health and well-being. Though supervisors Cohen, Jane Kim and Sandra Lee Fewer acknowledge that there has been no evidence thus far to cause health concerns for residents, they are adamant that it be retested, given the alleged duplicity from Tetra Tech.

“It is not enough to say that it is safe and you would live there. Quite frankly, you don’t live  there,” Fewer told Duchnak. “Parcel A needs to be retested just so people can sleep at night.”

Despite Cohen specifically requesting someone from Tetra Tech’s technical staff attend the hearing, the company instead sent Preston Hopson, the company’s senior vice president and general counsel, as its sole representative. Within minutes of stepping up to the podium, the supervisors dismissed Hopson for failing to answer why a Tetra Tech employee with in-depth knowledge was not present.

“I was very explicit,” Cohen told Hopson. “I find it insulting that you’re the only one from Tetra Tech that’s here.”

Tetra Tech has offered to fund an independent third-party to review its data and save the company’s reputation while repeatedly denying wrongdoing. Hopson later told the Examiner that he was disappointed the supervisors “chose to grandstand.”

Nevertheless, consequences for the contractor’s fraud are already underway. Earlier this month, two former Tech Tech supervisors were sentenced to eight months in prison for falsifying data related to the radiation cleanup at the Hunters Point Shipyard, which regulators testified was unprecedented. During the hearing, Kim made it clear that she believed it wasn’t limited to two individuals, but to company culture — which, it should be noted, the federal government is paying with taxpayer dollars.

“They do not deserve to get a single more dollar from us,” Kim said. “I am so disappointed that we have not cut every contract with this organization. It is a crime what they did.”

Duchnak said a “course of action” to retest Parcel G would be released within the next month and that the public would be able to comment on it. She also said the Navy is pursuing remedies to the contract with Tetra Tech for its noncompliant work.

“We are determined that our legacy here will be positive,” Duchnak told the supervisors.

Cohen, Kim and Fewer posed tough, sharp questions for the regulatory agencies, but it was Bayview resident and community leader Marie Harrison who said the supervisors were equally responsible. Now a campaign advisor for Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice, Harrison says she has brought the ignored issue to officials for years.

“History will not just raise and talk and shout about what happened here in San Francisco,” Harrison told the supervisors. “It will talk about San Francisco and it will say the truth about what our supervisors did and have done and will do.”

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