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July 22, 2005

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Publication Date: Friday, July 22, 2005

Options dwindle for Hangar One Options dwindle for Hangar One (July 22, 2005)

Demolition, removal of siding now the only Navy proposals on the table

By Jon Wiener

A citizens group meeting at City Hall degenerated into a shouting match last week after the surprising announcement by Navy officials that they are planning to take Hangar One apart one way or another.

At a July 12 meeting of the Restoration Advisory Board -- a stakeholders group that discusses the Moffett Field clean-up -- Navy project manager Art Tamayo said that the list of clean-up options for the polluted landmark is down to just two: demolishing the structure altogether or removing the hangar's toxic siding and leaving just a steel frame.

The surprise move came on the heels of a series of public relations victories for the Navy. These included an announcement that the Navy would remove chemicals from the soil at a polluted stormwater pond slated for wetlands restoration, as well as an agreement that the Navy would take responsibility for the interior of Hangar One.

But Navy clean-up chief Rick Weissenborn said last week that the Navy was not responsible for cleaning up the interior, ruling out the possibility of encapsulating the contaminants through an additional coat of paint. Other options that were eliminated would have left the hangar standing but kept the Navy on the hook for ongoing monitoring and treatment of a site that it no longer owns.

Lida Tan, who is overseeing the project for the Environmental Protection Agency, said she is sympathetic to the Navy's point of view, but thinks officials can do a better job of involving the public. "Whatever the Navy chooses to do for Hangar One, it's going to be permanent. And a permanent solution needs public and regulatory agency approval."

Preservationists are currently mobilizing to pressure the Navy to save Hangar One, but they continue to face an uphill battle. No one has stepped forward with the money to replace the siding should it be taken down, and officials with NASA (which owns the building but is not responsible for the cleanup) have said they would not accept part of a building.

One popular suggestion is to find a local company to replace the siding with solar panels. A similar effort to put panels on the sides of a round building at the Los Angeles Convention Center has produced far less power than expected.

In any event, time appears to be running out for the hangar. The Navy is hoping to start work in January, and an agreement with environmental regulators allows the Navy to pick an alternative without getting approval from the environmental regulators or listening to public input.

Demolition has its own drawbacks, though. A back-of-the-envelope calculation estimated the cost of tearing down the 200-foot-high structure at around $30 million, and there are environmental concerns about dust and disposal of the contaminated materials.

Peter Strauss, a consultant for the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, said he does not believe the Navy has been weighing the clean-up alternatives equally, but that public pressure could force officials to reconsider.

"When the community speaks in such a loud voice and a really unified voice, it's very difficult for them to neglect," said Strauss.

E-mail Jon Wiener at [email protected]


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