SF supervisors question Navy about fraud in Hunters Point cleanup

SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) San Francisco elected officials today called for re-testing for radioactive material at an inhabited parcel of a former U.S. Navy shipyard in Hunters Point after revelations of fraudulent data by a Navy contractor.

At a meeting of the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Transportation Committee, Supervisor Malia Cohen, whose district includes the project area, as well as Supervisors Jane Kim and Sandra Lee Fewer called the credibility of the Navy's cleanup efforts into question following the criminal conviction of two employees of a federal contractor for falsifying records.

The Navy has been in the process of transferring the land to the city of San Francisco for development. But its use as a shipyard left it contaminated with petroleum, metals and radioactive material, necessitating $1 billion in cleanup work.

While the supervisors stressed that there is no evidence of radioactive material at a site known as Parcel A, which was transferred from the Navy to the city in 2004 and is now the site of about 300 homes, they called for re-testing the area to allay the concerns of residents about the adequacy of the cleanup.

Cohen said she has heard from expectant families who live on the site who raised concerns about giving birth and raising children on land that is widely perceived to be toxic. 

"For years I have heard very real fears from the community and very little appropriate response from the Navy and other federal agencies about their work," Cohen said. 

U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, sent a letter last week to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt and U.S. Navy Secretary Richard Spencer calling for the land to be re-tested. 

Pelosi wrote that while she appreciates assurances the land is safe, the air of doubt around the project could affect property values. Given that community members living there have expressed a strong desire for re-testing, she agreed it should be done "out of an abundance of caution." 

While there have been concerns about the adequacy of cleanup at the shipyard for years, those concerns grew even more severe this month with the revelation by the U.S. Department of Justice that two employees of Tetra Tech, a U.S. Navy contractor tasked with testing for radiation, had falsified 
results in 2012. Tetra Tech was paid $250 million for its work on the site.

The Tetra Tech employees, Stephen Rolfe and Justin Hubbard, both pleaded guilty last year to falsifying records and have each been sentenced to eight months in prison

The falsified records were of soil outside of the inhabited parcels. Tetra Tech only worked on one building in Parcel A, which was demolished years ago and was only used for residences and administrative offices, according to the EPA.

A representative for the Navy, Laura Duchnak, stressed that the Navy believes there is no contamination in areas where people are living.

"Parcel A is safe. I would live there. I would have my family live there," she said. 

Given the long time between the misconduct and its revelation, however -- the charges against Rolfe and Hubbard were sealed until last week -- Kim, Cohen and Fewer called the Navy's credibility into question.

"It feels as if the Navy is constantly sweeping something under the rug," Cohen said. "It's infuriating, it's unfair."

But most of the supervisors' ire was directed at Tetra Tech itself. Kim said she believes that the issue went beyond two employees and that the company -- a frequent government contractor, which works on projects for the EPA nationwide -- should lose all of its contracts.

"I am just so disappointed that we have not cut every single contract with this organization," Kim said. "It's a crime what they did."

Tetra Tech general counsel Preston Hopson was only given the opportunity to answer one question before he was dismissed by Cohen, who was frustrated as she'd requested a company representative with technical expertise be in attendance, not an attorney.

In a statement earlier today, Tetra Tech officials said that Hopson would have told the committee that the company had cleaned the shipyard to Navy standards. The issues with the data collection were the 
result of the actions of two "rogue employees" who have since been criminally convicted, the company said.

Tetra Tech also offered to pay for independent resampling for the areas it remediated to put to rest any questions about the quality of its work.