San Francisco Naval Shipyard at Hunters Point, San Francisco, was located on 638 acres of waterfront. As of the mid-1950s it employed 8,500 civilians. The Navys Radiation Defense Laboratory and Pacific Reserve Fleet units were also located there. Established as commercial shipyard in 1870, it was acquired by the Navy 11 days before Pearl Harbor. Subsequently known as Hunters Point Naval Shipyard (HPNSY), after ceasing active operations in 1974, the Navy leased most of the shipyard to a commercial ship repair company that operated until 1986.
Treasure Island Naval Station Hunters Point Annex (NSTI Hunters Point) is in the southeast portion of San Francisco County, California. It is a deactivated Navy shipyard that was selected and approved for closure and disposition by the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission in 1991. Operational base closure was 1 April 1994. Closure of Hunters Point has left behind San Francisco's worst toxic waste dump and a legacy of nuclear and chemical pollution that residents fear may have a long-term effect on health in their low-income neighborhoods.
Naval operations at HPA began in 1941 near the start of WWII. The Navy increased ship building operations to quicken production of liberty ships during WWII. From 1941 to 1974, the principal facility activities were ship building; naval ships and submarines were also modified, maintained, and repaired. In addition to repair activities, the facility was used for base housing, naval ordnance training exercises, radiological defense research, and research on exposure to radioactive fallout.
In 1946, a group, designated as the Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory (NRDL), was detailed to arrange for the decontamination and disposition of several ships that had returned from nuclear weapons tests at the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. NRDL's mission was the study of nuclear weapons effects and the development of counter measures. NRDL was operational from 1946 until 1969. Several of the buildings were used for radioactive laboratory operations, cyclotron operations, animal research studies, material storage, and/or processing by NRDL.
HPA remained active until 1974, when it was placed on industrial reserve. The majority of HPA was leased to Triple A Machine Shop, Inc. from 1976 to 1986 during which time the base was used for ship repair. During this period, Triple A sub-leased HPA buildings to many small businesses. Allegations of improper waste disposal practices by Triple A were reported and in 1986, twenty on-site areas were investigated by the San Francisco District Attorney. The company had been accused by the city and county of dumping hazardous waste in various areas on site.
Portions of NSTI Hunters Point have been leased to private parties. Because of the presence of hazardous materials resulting from past shipyard operations and the operations of a commercial machine shop that had leased NSTI Hunters Point from 1976 to 1986, the EPA placed the installation on the NPL in 1989. Site types include landfills and land disposal areas. The Navy Radiological Defense Laboratory (NRDL) used multiple buildings at Hunters Point Annex. The Atomic Energy Commission determined the buildings were clean although the State of California requested additional sampling. Low level radiation was found outside some of the NRDL buildings and continues to be investigated.
Hunters Point is on a long promontory in the southeastern portion of San Francisco, extending eastward into San Francisco Bay. The facility is bounded on the north and east by the bay, and on the south and west by the Bayview/Hunters Point district of San Francisco. Between 70 and 80 percent of NSTI Hunters Point is relatively flat lowlands constructed by placing fill materials along the bay margin. The remaining land is on a moderately to steeply sloping ridge. Most of the lowlands are covered by asphalt paving and structures. The open areas are either sparsely vegetated or bare soil.
In 1985 discussions between the Navy and San Francisco led to selection of HPNSY as a homeport for the USS Missouri battlegroup. In 1986, HPA was taken over by the Navy to be developed as an annex to Naval Station Treasure Island. Civilian tenants, who by this time numbered over 900, were told they would have to leave. This group organized as the Businesses of Hunters Point, and efforts by the Navy to dislodge them were blocked. In 1988 the Missouri homeport concept was canceled.
The USS Missouri was assigned to San Francisco until the Base Closure Commission recommended the mothballing of Hunters Point. The Commission's report recommended that the USS Missouri go to Pearl Harbor and directed the redistribution of the entire battle group to existing ports in Hawaii and California. The Commission recommended that the proposed strategic homeport program construction for Hunters Point not be executed. Instead comparable construction would be accomplished at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and Long Beach and San Diego, California. The Commission recommended relocating the battleship and two cruisers from Hunters Point to Pearl Harbor, one cruiser, two destroyers and two frigates to San Diego, California, and one cruiser to Long Beach. The battleship Missouri never got to Hunters Point -- it had been based in Long Beach, sitting next to one of its sister Iowa-class ships, the USS New Jersey, which had been there off and on since the Vietnam war.
The fiscal year 1991 House Armed Services Committee defense authorization report required the Secretary of the Navy to enter into a lease with the City of San Francisco for not less than 260 acres of the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard. This lease constituted exactly half of this land and would be for a period not less than 30 years. This action permited the City of San Francisco to execute a development plan for Hunters Point to bring employment to the area. Hunters Point is bordered by the most depressed area of the city. Development on Hunters Point could bring jobs and prosperity to this community. The committee's intent was to turn this defunct shipyard land over to the city for the purpose of economic benefit to the region.
The shipyard had no mission due to the recommendation of cancellation of strategic home port status by the 1988 Commission on Base Realignment and Closure, its subsequent deactivation. The area is also highly polluted.
The intent is to sell the land, parcel by parcel, as various parcels are remediated. The concerns of the local community are primarily economic reuse of the facility, and increasing the economic potential of the community. The community has experienced 20 to 30% unemployment since the base was placed in industrial reserve in 1974. The Navy is making local small and disadvantaged businesses aware of subcontracting opportunities, encouraging mentor and protégé arrangements under large business contracts.
The Armed Services plan provided the city of San Francisco with the opportunity to take this valuable piece of land and turn it into an economic asset, effectively addressing the problems of a depressed area. Both Mare Island Naval Shipyard and local private ship repair contractors had the ability to use the nuclear carrier-capable drydock at Hunters Point. But this arrangement did not work simply because the drydock was unusable. Furthermore, Mare Island Naval Shipyard did not retain the skills necessary to perform large-scale, complex surface ship repair.
On October 5, 1994, the US Navy was sued by a coalition of environmentalist, sports fishing, and public interest groups who alleged that toxic discharges from Hunters Point Naval Shipyard are contaminating San Francisco Bay. The lawsuit filed against the Navy with the US District Court in San Francisco charges the Navy with 19,000 violations of the Clean Water Act. The violations are based on the Navy's own self-monitoring reports to the EPA and the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board.
According to Michael Herz of the San Francisco BayKeeper, the suit claims that toxic discharges of polycholorinated biphenyls (PCBs), acids, bases, organic solvents, paints, waste oils, and vinyl chlorides wash into the bay daily through broken tidal gates and leaking storm drains at the shipyard. Herz said that these chemicals are not only toxic to fish, but a health hazard to thousands of low-income people who consume contaminated seafood from the bay.