Frustration with the Navy's plan to leave Moffett Field's iconic Hangar One as a bare skeletal frame appears to have reached a boiling point, if a recent meeting of the Restoration Advisory Board is any indication.
The June 11 meeting brought about 100 hangar supporters to the conference room of NASA Building 943, where Navy representatives made it clear that the fate of Hangar One hangs in the balance. The Navy said a contractor would be hired by the end of July to carry out its plan to remove the hangar's toxic siding over a 30-month period -- with no plan to re-skin it.
Opposition to the Navy's plan is unanimous among local community leaders and elected officials. Last Tuesday, the Mountain View City Council joined the RAB in asking the Navy for a Hangar One "summit" or "all hands meeting" between top Navy officials, NASA and Congresswoman Anna Eshoo.
"Senior Navy leadership is being informed of the request," said John Hill, Navy base closure manager for Moffett Field, in an e-mail Tuesday. "Navy responses to Representative Eshoo and NASA are forthcoming; therefore meeting attendees and a meeting schedule have not been established at this time."
Preservationists say the clock is ticking for Hangar One once a contractor is hired by the Navy. They say removing the hangar's toxic galbestos siding with no plan to re-cover the frame will lead to corrosion of the well-preserved skeletal structure and possibly turn it into a huge bird's nest -- a safety hazard for aircraft taking off and landing there.
Lew Braxton, NASA Ames deputy director, said it would be "unwise" to move forward without a plan to re-skin the hangar, which NASA plans to re-use.
"I'm afraid you are going down a road" on which "there is no going back," added Lenny Siegel, director of the Center for Public Environmental Oversight to the Navy.
The Navy was apologetic about its plan, which is opposed by every elected official in the area, including Congresswoman Eshoo and the Mountain View and Sunnyvale city councils.
"The Navy is not enthusiastic about moving forward without support from the community at all levels," Hill said. But he added that "any additional delay could cost the Navy millions of dollars."
The frustrations of many were summed up by one RAB meeting attendee, who said he was baffled that the hangar is in jeopardy even though it's registered with the federal government as a historic building.
"Why do we even bother to register our historic places at all?" he asked.
The Navy and NASA continued to blame each other for not coming to an agreement on how to pay for re-skinning the hangar. In March, it appeared that the two sides had nearly reached an agreement: The Navy would put a new skin on, and in return NASA Ames would take on some additional responsibility for cleaning up the toxic substances left around Moffett Field by the Navy, freeing the Navy of obligations that could extend for decades. Cash-strapped NASA said it would rather pay the incremental costs of environmental cleanup than the high up-front cost of restoring the hangar.
But those talks have since broken down. The Navy blames NASA for not having a plan for the hangar, while NASA says the Navy wants to saddle it with excessive costs and liabilities.
The Navy says re-skinning will only cost $15 million, but according to several speakers last week, the Navy itself apparently believes it could cost more than twice that. Braxton said NASA also is concerned about whether the re-skinned hangar would be "watertight."
It was noted at the meeting that the hangar's 6,000 windows will probably be destroyed in the process of removing the skin. So will the many of hangar's historic interior structures.
"There isn't anything left to save 10 to 15 months into" the Navy's plan, said Carl Honaker, the last chief officer at Moffett Field before the Navy left in 1994.
Board co-chair Bob Moss continued to advocate unsuccessfully for the RAB to support leaving the hangar's siding intact and instead give it a $30 million coating to lock in hazardous chemicals. The Navy, and the RAB, rejected the idea, known as "Alternative Four," because it is considered to be a relatively temporary solution.
"I don't want to spend anybody's time beating a dead horse," said Peter Strauss, technical advisor at the Center for Public Environmental Oversight.