Hangar One's fate: NASA Inspector General won't back down
Following the backlash over a June 2011 report pushing for the disposal of historic Hangar One and Moffett Federal Airfield, the NASA Inspector General has issued another report igniting opposition from Hangar One preservationists.
The Aug. 9 audit calls for more transparency in the space agency's leasing practices, and scrutinizes NASA Ames' leases with Airship Ventures, Singularity University, Google and H211 LLC, which operates a fleet of private planes out of NASA-controlled Moffett Field for the founders of Google. The report will make it more difficult to find someone to restore and lease Hangar One, preservationists say, because it calls on NASA to only lease property that has a "current or future mission" for NASA and dispose of properties that do not, such as Hangar One.
"Your office and NASA Headquarters, with blinders firmly on, chose again to ignore what is most important to the communities and citizens of the Bay Area: preserving and restoring a usable Hangar One as a centerpiece for any future use of Moffett Field," writes Lenny Siegel and William Berry, members of the Moffett Field Restoration Advisory Board.
"This objective is not merely a local concern: In May 2012 the National Advisory Council on Historic Preservation reiterated, in a letter to the NASA Administrator, 'The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) has long supported the reuse of Hangar One at Moffett Field as a way to ensure that the building survives to convey an important part of our history to future generations.'"
In response to the protest letter, NASA Inspector General Paul K. Martin pointed to the space agency's aging facilities which require maintenance costing "in excess of $2.5 billion."
"Congress specifically directed the Agency — in the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 — to reduce its real property footprint to fit current and future missions and expected funding levels," Martin writes in a Sept. 4 letter. "Moreover, given the anticipated funding constraints for all Federal agencies in the years ahead, prudent decisions regarding the disposition of unneeded real property are imperative."
Siegel, an expert on environmental cleanup, said that transferring ownership of Hangar One could take five years or more because it sits on top of a Superfund cleanup site.
"Even in the best of times, it is difficult and slow to transfer to Superfund contaminated property from federal ownership," Siegel said. "That can't really be done in a timely fashion, thus threatening the hangar with deterioration."
The U.S. Navy recently finished stripping the 200-foot-tall hangar of siding laced with PCBs, lead and asbestos in an environmental cleanup. The metal skeleton was coated with paint and left to stand that way indefinitely, despite calls from local government leaders to replace the siding right away to protect the structure. At one point NASA was ordered by the White House to take on the responsibility of restoring the structure of from the Navy, but a NASA funding request failed to gain the necessary votes in Congress.
The Inspector general's position, and opposition from NASA headquarters, shot down an offer from the founders of Google to pay the cost of restoring Hangar One in exchange for a long-term lease for their storing their private planes there. Instead, NASA chief Charles Bolden said NASA would begin working with the General Services Administration to dispose of Hangar One and the Moffett airfield, which NASA has struggled to find funding to operate.
"As stated in the Administrator's April 2012 letter to a member of Congress, because NASA had no mission use for Hangar One or the other Moffett Field property (the airfield) it would not be consistent with Federal law for the Agency to lease the property to H211," the Aug. 9 audit states. "The Administrator's action nevertheless sparked significant opposition from members of Congress, local residents, and the media."
"We continue to be confounded and disappointed by the unwillingness of NASA's leadership, as characterized and supported by your report, to recognize its obligation to see that such an important property as Hangar One is preserved in a timely manner," write Berry and Siegel in their letter.
Berry and Siegel say the Inspector General is ignoring historical preservation and environmental cleanup obligations the federal government has in dealing with Hangar One. They also bring up the possibility of an earth, air and space museum in the hangar, which might not be part of part of NASA's mission, but would certainly fit the space agency's goal of educating the public. Hangar One preservationists have been pushing for such a place, and have set up a website at airandspacewest.org.
"The important thing about the H211 proposal is it tied the future of the hangar to the future of the airfield," Siegel said. "The proposed Earth Air and Space Center may or may not require use of the airfield in the long run."
"Its my personal belief that it is time to do another study of the future of Moffett Field," Siegel said, recalling the citizens advisory committee formed in 1997 after the Navy left Moffett. "I hate to think it, but that's like 15 years ago. It's time to do such a study again."
Email Daniel DeBolt at firstname.lastname@example.org