Federal court shuts down major Hunters Point Shipyard polluter

Astoria Metals and Navy brought to justice after five years of disobeying the law and the courts

U.S. District Court granted an injunction Monday sought by San Francisco
WaterKeepers and Arc Ecology to halt further use of Dry Dock No. 4 at the
Hunters Point Shipyard until the Navy’s tenant, Astoria Metals, can
demonstrate they can safely operate the facility. Five years, and four
lawsuits after Arc Ecology and San Francisco WaterKeepers first sought to
halt Astoria Metals’ ongoing violations of the Clean Water Act and other
environmental regulations, the courts have finally brought the hammer down.

The focus of the immediate action was Astoria’s violation of its court
sanctioned consent decree with Bay Keeper and Arc Ecology in which the ship scrapper pledged to control the heavy metal and chemical contamination resulting from its operations at Dry Dock 4. The plaintiffs asked the court to rule Astoria in contempt of court and to enjoin its further use of the property. Representing San Francisco WaterKeepers and Arc Ecology before the court was Alan Ramo of the Environmental Law and Justice Clinic of Golden Gate University, and Daniel Cooper of Lawyers for Clean Water.

“The Navy allowed its last tenant, the Triple A Shipyard, to willfully
pollute Dry Dock 4 and the Hunters Point Shipyard for 10 years,” said Saul
Bloom, director of Arc Ecology. Only after the FBI and the San Francisco
District Attorney raided the yard for environmental pollution did the Navy
cancel Triple A’s lease. Today, citizen action has brought the Navy’s
current tenant, Astoria Metals, to environmental justice after only four
years.”

Bloom went on to criticize the Navy for the action against Astoria. “We’ve
shut down this polluter, but the problem remains the same: the Navy
continues to disregard its responsibility for the environmental stewardship
of the Hunters Point Shipyard. The reason the Navy’s tenants keep violating
the law is they know the Navy doesn’t care.

“This victory comes as the 45-day Parcel E landfill fire continues to
smolder. The Navy should be forewarned: This is just the first of many
victories to come in court.

“With the passage of Proposition P this November, the Navy will have a
mandate from the citizens of the City of San Francisco to carry out. We are
at an important crossroads; if it fails or wavers, the Navy will plow
directly into a hurricane of litigation.”

Astoria was defiant about having to comply with environmental laws. On Oct. 10, the attorney for Astoria Metals argued that the if the court shut downthe operation in San Francisco, the Navy would simply move it to
Brownsville, Texas, where lax environmental laws will enable it to cause
even more pollution.

Judge Susan Illston refused to accept that argument. “I cannot control what
happens in Brownsville,” replied the judge, “but I can control what happens
here.”

During the hearing, the attorney for Astoria Metals threatened that an
injunction against the company would cause the loss of 250 jobs in San
Francisco. Judge Illston rejected Astoria’s assertion, “Defendant [Watson’s]
claim that he would be required to lay off workers is unsupported … and
vague. At most … the economic impacts would be temporary and resolved once Astoria can ensure compliance with its … permit.”

Olin Webb, the executive director of the Bayview Hunters Point Community
Advocates and Treasurer of the Yes on P campaign also dismissed Astoria’s
claims. “If San Francisco is denied the jobs derived from environmentally
responsible ship breaking, it is the Navy’s incompetence and disinterest in
managing its ship-craft tenants that is the cause.”

Webb went on to encourage the Navy to partner with an environmentally
responsible ship-craft firm, “We know it (environmentally responsible ship
breaking) can be done. But you can’t come into the Bayview Hunters Point
community any longer by offering jobs in exchange for pollution. If that’s
the deal, we don’t want it; our community’s health is suffering.”

For more information, call Arc Ecology, (415) 495-1786.