In the wake of fraudulent soil samples at Hunter’s Point Naval Shipyard, the Concord City Council held a study session about the cleanup process at the Concord Naval Weapons site.
“This is a really important health and safety conversation that I know the community has been wanting to have for some time,” said Councilwoman Carlyn Obringer.
Earlier this year, two employees at Tetra Tech EC pled guilty to falsifying soil records when they were contracted as part of the Navy’s cleanup of the San Francisco shipyard. The issue came to light after the Navy found discrepancies in Tetra Tech’s results.
“This is something that scares a lot of people,” Councilman Tim McGallian said. “It’s difficult to know that the readings are correct. I’m not a scientist, so I’m trusting in the process.”
“I recognize the concerns surrounding the Tetra Tech issues at Hunter’s Point,” said John Chestnut of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “It’s a very extraordinary situation. It’s a quite disturbing situation. In my 30 years at EPA, I have not seen anything like this.”
At the Oct. 30 study session in Concord, Navy, federal and state officials talked about additional levels of scrutiny being put into place for cleanup projects like Concord.
“We’re looking at ways to enhance what we’re doing here – including a lot more field oversight,” Chestnut said. “It’s really hard at some level to safeguard against blatant, outright cheating.
That’s why we’ll have an additional contractor to look after a contractor, which sounds absurd.”
Marc Smits, environmental coordinator for the Concord Base Realignment and Closure, noted that the Concord cleanup already had extra oversight because the base was used for storing munitions.
“At munitions sites, it’s built-in to have that,” he said. “Now we’re adding that to radiological going forward.”
The Concord site has radiological issues with 41 bunkers and seven buildings, along with soil and groundwater contamination on five sites.
“There were limited radiological activities conducted at NWS Concord as compared to Hunter’s Point,” Smits said, noting that Hunter’s Point had a Radiological Defense Lab and was also used for decontamination of ships from weapon testing.
“The buildings (in Concord) are easier to oversee than the vast amount of soil work we had to do at Hunter’s Point,” said Chestnut.
He said the EPA has assembled a national team of health physicists. “These folks are top-notch. They’re involved with every step at Hunter’s Point, and they’re already reviewing some of the work proposed here.”
When Councilman Laura Hoffmeister asked how the Navy could ensure that previous soil samples from the Concord site weren’t falsified, Smits again pointed to the independent contractor built-in to munitions sites. “We don’t feel we need to go back to those sites because we did have that extra assurance,” he said.
“The Navy has been and remains dedicated to ensuring all property at NWS Concord is safe for transfer and subsequent community use,” Smits told the council. “We have been and will continue to be transparent.”
Smits said about 70 percent of the land is ready for transfer to the city, with the rest of the cleanup to be complete by 2026. Concord is currently working with Lennar for housing on 500 of the 2,300 acres targeted for development.
“This is about health and safety not just of the future residents but those who are going to work there and build,” Obringer said. “It’s really critical that we get this right.”
Several council members suggested that the Navy avoid issuing further contracts to any Tetra Tech company.
“We are in the process of finalizing their last contract,” Smits said of Tetra Tech EC. “However, there are other branches that work with us and we have not had any claims.”
To that, Hoffmeister added: “Trust. But verify.”