Why build stadium on Shipyard powder keg?

Like the gas flaring in the Niger Delta that poisons the people and lights the skies 24/7, Mayor Newsom wants to build the 49ers a stadium atop the Shipyard’s deadliest dump and light it at night with gas flares to burn off methane gas and the toxins it carries.

by Willie Ratcliff

Either the mayor has lost his mind, or this is the desperate re-election cry of a drowning man. Under the banner headline, “S.F.’s grand plan for 49ers,” the story in Tuesday’s Chronicle begins: “The neglected areas of San Francisco’s southeast shore would be remade into a destination spot with a new football stadium, hundreds of acres of open space and thousands of new homes ….”

In a letter to the Chronicle, Celia Gomes writes: “(I)s anyone even slightly disgusted by the fact that talk about cleaning up the toxic Bayview revolves around the future of a sports team, instead of the future health and prosperity of an entire neighborhood of people?

“I am not trying to pull the Kanye West card here, but doesn’t it seem as if someone out there just doesn’t like Black people? Bayview residents have been living with asthma way longer than the 49ers have been living with a third-rate stadium.”

Mayor Gavin Newsom’s “destination spot” is the Hunters Point Shipyard, one of the dirtiest and most dangerous closed military bases in the country, a Superfund site that the Navy has spent more than 15 years and more than $500 million cleaning up – and still not a single parcel is cleaned of deadly toxins. Especially dangerous is the legacy of top secret experiments at the Naval Radiological Defense Laboratories – radioactive material scattered all over the Shipyard that continues to contaminate buildings, soils, drydocks and the entire storm drain and sanitary sewer system, according to the Historical Radiological Assessment.

The dirtiest spot in the Shipyard is exactly where Newsom envisions the stadium, atop a 46-acre landfill on Parcel E that rates as one of the nation’s top 10 dirtiest dumps. This is the spot where a spectacular fire with multi-colored flames burst through the earth in 2000 to burn above ground for a while as the Navy tried in vain to extinguish it and then burn underground for many months.

What to do about the Parcel E dump was the topic of Thursday’s RAB (Restoration Advisory Board) meeting, where the Navy and community confer monthly on the cleanup process. Although the federal EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) recommended from the get-go its “worst first” strategy – tackling cleanup of the worst part of the Shipyard, the 46-acre landfill, first – the Navy chose, even after the fire, to put it off.

In a handout, the Navy shows with aerial photographs the growth of the landfill, which used to be part of the Bay, from 1946 to 1986 and lists its contents as including “wastes from decontamination of ships used in atomic testing.” Well over a decade ago, when the community was pushing hard for removal of the landfill, a high-ranking EPA official sheepishly admitted, “It’s more dangerous to remove the dump than leave it there.” Imagine how safe that made nearby residents feel!

Now the Navy handout reveals its cost estimates for two main “remedial alternatives”: either excavate and dispose of the toxic and radioactive waste for $330 million or “contain” it for $73 million. Effectiveness of the cheaper alternative is questionable, since the Navy’s efforts to contain the mess so far have all backfired.

And what about the methane? All dumps emit methane gas, a gas that combines with other toxins and carries them with it as it moves through the earth seeking an outlet, a gas that is both flammable and explosive. The Navy’s cheaper alternative “remedy” is to prevent fires and explosions by “flaring” the gas.

Flaring is the practice by exploitive oil companies that our brothers and sisters in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta have been waging war against for decades. There, as in Hunters Point, the people are locked out of the jobs and other benefits and poisoned by the toxins, especially from the incessant flaring.

The 70-some people at the RAB meeting were just as adamant. Every single resident there – including those quiet folks who are in the habit of accepting whatever edict the Navy and the City hand down – voiced unalterable opposition to flaring and containment and demanded excavation and disposal of the Parcel E landfill.

Remember our last big earthquake on Oct. 17, 1989, during the third game of the World Series between the Oakland As and the San Francisco Giants at Candlestick? Suppose the Parcel E landfill is not removed and Mayor Newsom and his greedy buddy Lennar build a stadium on top of that flammable, explosive dump.

Now suppose an earthquake strikes in the midst of a game with the stadium filled to capacity. What do you bet? Will the pressure in the dump blow the stadium sky high, or will liquefaction turn solid ground to liquid as it did in the Marina in ’89 and suck the stadium down into the Bay mud?

Maybe the mayor’s willing to take his chances. Maybe he even sees an advantage in siting a major league stadium on top of one of the 10 deadliest dumps in the country – with methane flares surrounding the stadium, he can skip the expensive lighting for night games.

“Navy officials estimate that completing the cleanup will take 10 more years and an additional $500 million,” the Chronicle reported Tuesday.

“Under Newsom’s plan, the Navy would turn over the land sooner rather than later and continue to pick up the tab for a Lennar-led clean-up, moves that would not only take approvals at the highest reaches of the Pentagon but also an act of Congress to authorize necessary budget appropriations.”

As slow, inefficient and wasteful as the Navy’s cleanup has been, putting Lennar in charge is a sick joke. Lennar is notorious for building a whole subdivision of new homes on top of its own toxic dump in Florida.

Far better than the mayor’s plan is the community’s plan: Send Lennar home to Miami and stop all development at the Shipyard until it’s all cleaned to residential standards as Prop P ordained, including removal of the Parcel E landfill; restore the health of all our people; give preference for every job and economic opportunity to community residents; and, when the time for development comes, let it be done by neighborhood developers hiring and training workers from the community – the same way the rest of San Francisco was built.

Tell me what you think – and if you’re ever tempted to take Mayor Newsom or his spokesmen seriously, kick yourself.

Contact Bay View publisher Willie Ratcliff at (415) 671-0789 or publisher@sfbayview.com.