Eliminating dissent

U.S. Navy dissolves Hunters Point Shipyard citizens' comments just as toxic cleanup enters critical phase


For years, the Hunters Point Shipyard Restoration Advisory Board has served as the Bayview-Hunters Point community's main voice in the U.S. Navy's environmental cleanup plans for the toxic former naval station. But the committee is suddenly being disbanded just as the cleanup enters a crucial phase.

Used for shipbuilding and submarine maintenance and repair, and the decontamination, storage, and disposal of radioactive and atomic weapons testing materials, the shipyard was added to the Superfund national toxic site cleanup list in 1989. But it is also at the heart of where Mayor Gavin Newsom has partnered with Lennar Corp. on the city's biggest development proposal, involving 10,500 homes and a new stadium for the 49ers.

As the Navy prepares to release a series of important studies and reports concerning the cleanup of the dirtiest parcels on the former shipyard, community members were outraged by the Navy's announcement in late May that it is preparing to dissolve the RAB in the next 30 days.

In July the Navy will release draft feasibility studies for the cleanup of Parcel E, along with a final remedial investigation/feasibility study for Parcel E2, the dirtiest parcel on the base, and a radiological data-gathering investigation in the sediment surrounding Parcel F, which is the underwater portion of the base.

Some insiders say the announcement was not unexpected, given an escautf8g series of confrontational RAB meetings with the Navy over the last two years. But they fear the community will lose its ability to give the Navy direct, timely, and meaningful feedback, even if many believe the Navy wasn't listening.

"The Navy fully supports the need for open, meaningful dialogue with the diverse Bayview-Hunters Point community regarding our environmental cleanup actions and decisions. However, the RAB is not fulfilling this objective," the Navy's Laura Duchnak wrote in a May 22 letter to the RAB.

In her letter, Duchnak said the RAB meetings no longer provide community input on the Navy's environmental cleanup program, that their atmosphere is not productive to effective public discourse, and that Navy attempts to improve the process have failed. "The revised community involvement program may include community environmental forums, including using Internet-based technologies to more easily reach a diverse audience, expanded monthly progress reports and fact sheets, and hosting technical discussions and tours of cleanup sites for interested community members," Duchnak wrote.

Duchnak's announcement followed a tense January meeting in which RAB members reacted with horror when the Navy announced it was moving forward with controversial plans to cap radiologically-affected areas on the shipyard's Parcel B instead of digging and hauling them, which the community preferred (see "Nuclear Fallout," 07/16/08).

Led by RAB co-chair Leon Muhammad, who teaches at the Nation of Islam's Center for Self Improvement, which has been repeatedly dusted by unmonitored asbestos (see "The corporation that ate San Francisco," 03/17/07), and joined by newly sworn-in members Archbishop King, Marie Harrison, and Daniel Landry, the board voted to seek a civil grand jury investigation into whether local truckers are getting their fair share of the Navy's shipyard contracts.

Members then voted to remove the city's public health representative Amy Brownell from the RAB, and to call for the stoppage of all work on the yard until the Department of Defense, the Navy, and the city can prove, as Muhammad said, "where the ongoing dust exceedences are coming from."

The final straw, insiders say, occurred in February when members voted to remove the Navy's RAB co-chair Keith Forman from the advisory board.