San Francisco waterfront site to be revitalized

December 1, 2014

San Francisco has recently made headlines for its record-high rent prices and burgeoning economy. The area has attracted many young companies, and thousands of professionals that want to contribute to the city's growth.

However, some critics argue that the limited availability of housing could put a damper on progress. Environmental remediation of brownfields and other contaminated properties is a highly effective means of providing space or new housing or commercial projects, helping to promote continued expansion.

This is evidenced by the recent announcement that the area known as Pier 70 on San Francisco's waterfront will undergo an extensive clean-up effort aimed at returning the land to usable condition for mixed-use purposes. Pier 70, located south of Mission Bay, has a long and well-documented history as an industrial zone, dating back for more than 100 years.

"It was just a magnet for workers and manufacturing for such a long time," Ralph Wilson, a member of the Central Waterfront Advisory Group for the Port of San Francisco told the SF Examiner. "It was sort of the first of the West Coast defense industry locations."

According to the source, the 70-acre site has hosted industrial operations since as far back as the 1880s. Several shipbuilding organizations existed there over the years, and Pier 70 is recognized as the first West Coast site to build a U.S. Navy ship. Bethlehem Steel began operating there in 1905, and continued operations through World War II. The source also noted that the tubes that were used to construct San Francisco's mass-transit system, BART, were constructed at Pier 70 in the 1960s.

However, these decades of industrial use did result in negative effects on nearby environmental quality. Recent investigations have discovered that Pier 70 contains naturally occurring metals and asbestos from previous industrial operations. Trace amounts of heavy hydrocarbons were also detected and are thought to stem from BAE Systems San Francisco Ship Repair facility, which is still currently in operation.

Remediation and redevelopment plans put forth by The Port of San Francisco describe building housing for at least 1,000 residents, as well as waterfront public parks. The site will also include some commercially-zoned space, namely new space for existing art studios, and ground-level manufacturing and retail services. 

The remediation plan includes the installation of soil caps over contaminated areas. Clean soil will also be imported to cover certain areas, and will be separated from the contaminated earth by at least six inches of gravel.

In cities like San Francisco, where real estate is at a premium, pursuing environmental remediation of contaminated land can help make the area more accessible and provide new economic opportunities. Environmental consultants can help local stakeholders determine the safest and most cost-effective means of returning valuable land to usable condition.