WASHINGTON — Local and federal officials signed an agreement on Wednesday aimed at cleaning up hazardous waste and building new housing at San Francisco’s old Hunters Point Naval Shipyard.
But the agreement sets out neither a timetable nor a budget to complete the work at a facility that has been closed since 1974 and on the list of highly contaminated Superfund sites since 1989. The 936-acre site that abuts the bay in San Francisco’s southeastern corner is the largest tract of undeveloped land in the city.
Still, San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, members of Congress and Secretary of the Navy Gordon R. England hailed Wednesday’s accord as a new day in the often contentious relationship between the city and the Navy.
“It will be done,” England said at a ceremony in the Capitol office of Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco.
Brown called the agreement historic and said the first parcel, 66 acres of land on the site that have been cleaned, would be transferred to San Francisco’s control within days. A developer who plans to put affordable housing on the site said work could begin in the spring of next year.
If the signing ceremony seemed familiar, Brown and other Navy officials agreed on a four-year cleanup plan in November 2000.
“This is a landmark day for the Bayview-Hunters Point community,” he said then.
Now, nearly 15 months later, Brown said the difference is that the Navy, not the city, is providing the impetus for finally cleaning a site that is contaminated with fuel, batteries, solvents and radioactive waste.
England said the Navy would be pushing for similar agreements at other contaminated sites it owns. “We want to be out of land management,” he said.
Reaction from community advocates was restrained. Saul Bloom, executive director of a Bay Area nonprofit group that has worked on the Hunters Point issue, said agreements have been in hand before with little to show for them. Bloom, who heads Arc Ecology, characterized Wednesday’s agreement as an “addendum to a non-binding agreement.”
Pelosi, whose district includes the neighborhood, alluded to the project’s troubled history. “So many times before we thought we had an agreement,” said Pelosi, newly installed as the No. 2 Democrat in the House.
Pushed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Congress recently voted to spend $50 million on the Hunters Point cleanup. Feinstein inserted the money in a spending bill only after she learned that the Navy was planning to spend less than $10 million on decontamination there.
Brown aide Jesse Blout, the city’s lead negotiator in talks with the Navy, said the Navy’s budget for the cleanup is more than $100 million. But Navy officials did not provide any budget figures.
The Navy has done sporadic cleanup work at Hunters Point. It halted work in 1999, saying costs were higher than expected.
The Navy also came under heavy local criticism for waiting two weeks to inform the Environmental Protection Agency of an underground fire at a landfill on the site in 2000.