Monday, September 9, 2013

Shipyard tours impress locals

The landmark gantry crane at the Shipyard remains an engineering marvel. Built in 1947, it is 330 feet tall, and can lift 450 tons. It was built to lift the steel turrets of battleships, and was the only one on the west coast that could do that. The "swale" in the foreground is a new 100 foot culvert designed to channel storm water to the Bay. The water management system and the "durable cover" over toxic waste are among the new engineering marvels at the Shipyard. Photo: Footprints

Bus tours of Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, designed as informal updates about the Navy's environmental cleanup program, rolled between new construction and decay on Saturday, August 24th. 

The guided tours made six stops where participants heard about the testing, cleanup and environmental monitoring of what is a massive redevelopment project that has been decades in the making.

This structure suggests the long arc of history at the Shipyard.
Hunters Point Naval Shipyard is the town-sized swath of prime waterfront real estate located below Islais Creek ... and within sight of India Basin, Heron's Head Park, and Hunters Point Hill ... in San Francisco's Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood. It was once the economic driver for the southeast part of the City. At its peak of activity, the Shipyard employed 30,000 people. 

"I was one of those 30,000," Bayview resident Ramiro Castro recalled. Ramiro was a teenage in the 1960's when he worked at the Shipyard. He is now an attorney who lives at 5800 Third Street. 

"I probably shouldn't have been breathing the asbestos," he said. "But we didn't know about that in those days." 

Some tour participants seemed as interested in the history and future use of the Shipyard as they were in the environmental issues that the Navy has been wrangling with. Others were focused on the cleanup status, aware the project has been the subject of contentious debates. 

Keith Tisdell, who like Ramiro is a former Shipyard worker, was pleased with what he saw on the tour. Keith had been featured in a 2007 SF Chronicle article in which he disclosed health problems he and his family were experiencing that he believes are associated with construction dust. 

When asked how he would rate the cleanup on a scale of one to ten, he paused for a moment then said, "Nine. We've come a long way." 

Environmental challenges at the Shipyard are no secret to concerned residents, or to urban planners and corporate developers who are re-purposing the land, parcel by parcel, as portions are deemed safe and then transferred to the City. The site was added to the Federal Superfund List in 1991, both an acknowledgment of the seriousness of the problems and a source of revenue for the clean-up effort.

Keith Forman
The Navy's tour organizer and guide, Keith Forman, got right to the point when he oriented tour participants in the auditorium of Shipyard Building 101. 

"We are the people who polluted the Shipyard," he said. "And we used it to defend the country." 

After World War II, demand for Shipyard services steadily declined along with the number of jobs and the general economic vitality of the area. Left behind was a morass of environmental problems that have affected the lives of residents ever since. 

Keith reviewed the long arc of history, planning and potential of the Shipyard site before participants stepped aboard a tour bus to see the sites. 

In addition to the Navy's Keith Forman, the tour was led by former Shipyard Residents Advisory Board (RAB) facilitator John Scott. Also on hand were Craig Cooper, the US EPA's coordinator of the Yosemite Slough clean-up, Martha Walters from ARC Ecology, and Ryan Miya from the State Water Board.

The Shipyard transformation ... into a large, new San Francisco community that mixes residency with commerce ... is on track. The site remains a historical landmark and a symbol of urban decay and potential. Stay tuned! 

- Jeffrey Betcher

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