Deadlocked over a seven-figure coating bill, two federal agencies have decided to Google a solution.
NASA and the U.S. General Services Administration announced Feb. 10 that a Google shell firm, Planetary Ventures LLC, would lease and rehab the 80-year-old federal facility known as Hangar One.
The company will also manage the former Naval Air Station Moffett Field, in Mountain View, CA.
Hangar One—a 1,133-foot-long, 198-foot-tall freestanding structure—was built in 1933 to support the U.S. Navy's "lighter than air" shipbuilding program after World War I. However, a 2002 air study found potentially harmful levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) inside the structure, and it has sat unused ever since.
Restoring a Landmark
Enter Google, which, by leasing the space through its subsidiary, will put Hangar One to new use with a commitment to protect that building, rehabilitate Hangars 2 and 3, and create a public use/educational facility.
In order to remediate toxic chemicals in Hangar One's coatings, the Navy stripped it down, leaving only its steel frame, which was then recoated to encapsulate residual chemicals.
"Hangar One was the landmark of Silicon Valley well before the rise of today's high-tech titans," said Dan Tangherlini, administrator of the GSA. "Naming a lessee is a testament to GSA's committment to providing the best value for the agency's federal partners and the American people."
The company plans to use all three hangars for the "research, testing, assembly, and development" of technologies related to space, aviation, rovers and robotics, the Mountain View Voice reported, citing a GSA spokesperson.
"We are delighted to move ahead in the selection process, and we look forward to working with both GSA and NASA to preserve the heritage of Moffett Federal Airfield," Google said in an emailed statement to CBSNews.com.
According to the news site, there was only one other competitor for the lease, whom NASA declined to identify. (The fee just to have a proposal considered was $500,000.)
NASA is now engaged in confidential negotiations with Planetary Ventures on the terms of the lease.
Navy vs. NASA
Hangar One, along with about 1,100 acres, was transferred to NASA in 1994 for integration with its adjacent Ames Research Center. However, the Navy retained responsibility for environmental cleanup of the property.
That arrangement has been a rocky one, pitting the Navy against NASA on several cleanup issues, particularly the $6 million cost of keeping up with an epoxy coating system currently encapsulating residual PCBs.
As Hangar One started to deteriorate over the years, officials learned that the paint and materials used to construct it contained PCBs, asbestos and lead.That discovery came to light after PCBs were found in sediment at a stormwater retention pond in 1997 and traced back to the structure.
(Moffett Field was put on the Superfund National Priorities List in 1987. To date, 30 hazardous-waste sites have been identified at the location, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.)
Navy Coatings Removal
In order to hold up its end of the deal, and comply with Superfund requirements under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), the Navy decided the best route was to completely strip down Hangar One.
The Navy worked to remove the hangar's siding, tear down interior structures, and remove debris to appropriate off-site disposal or recycling facilities.
With only the massive frame left, the Navy prepared the steel and concrete surfaces with high-pressure washing and applied an epoxy coating system to the remaining structural steel frame and certain concrete structures.
Under the proposed lease, Google's Planetary Ventures will be required to design a re-siding rehabilitation plan for Hangar One, as well as maintain Moffett Federal Airfield.
After work was completed in the spring of 2013, the Navy said that there were no identified complete pathways for chemicals of concern to migrate from Hangar One to the environment—but that, "if the epoxy coating on the steel frame breaks down in the future, potential exposure could occur."
And so, the Navy published a proposed plan of action in July 2013, suggesting two options:
Do nothing (and spend nothing); or
Implement institutional controls, including the development of a 30-year maintenance and inspection program for the epoxy coating—at a cost of about $6 million.
The Navy didn't specify who should pay for the work, but suggested the bill go to NASA.
Quite the Renter's Agreement
NASA and the GSA already had a third option in mind, however. In May 2013, they issued a Request for Proposals in May 2013 to obtain lease proposals for the rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of Hangar One; and for the operation, management and maintenance of Moffett Federal Airfield.
That request kicked off a competitive process that gave the private sector a chance to work with the government to rehabilitate and reuse Hangar One with a long-term lease agreement.
As part of the proposal, whoever leased Hangar One would be required to design a re-siding rehabilitation plan that would minimize disturbing the current epoxy coating and residual PCBs. The plan, to be completed within two full government fiscal years, would have to be coordinated with the government and regulatory agencies.
Additionally, the lessee would have to put down a non-refundable $2 million security deposit in case of "default or failure to perform." (However, that deposit could be credited towards rent or reimbursable costs after "substantial completion" of re-siding efforts, as determined by NASA.)
Upon announcing the new lease, Charles Bolden, the NASA Administrator, said, "At NASA we're not only committed to exploring our solar system, but also making sure we're spending tax dollars wisely. That's why we've been so aggressive at making surplus or under-utilized property available to the private sector or other government partners.
"The agreement announced today will benefit the American taxpayer and the community around Moffett."
In the past, the surrounding community hasn't been shy about voicing its concerns over Hangar One.
NASA is working to negotiate specific terms with Google's shell firm, during which time it won't release specifics of the pending lease agreement.
During a public hearing in Mountain View last August, the Navy listened to feedback on its two-option proposed plan, and the commentary largely criticized the Navy for trying to pass the problem off on NASA.
"I would keep NASA out of it, because NASA didn't create the problem in the first place," said Bob Moss, a member of the Moffett Field Restoration Advisory Board, according to the San Jose Mercury News.
"NASA didn't decide how to seal the hangar when the skin was taken off. The Navy decided that's what they wanted to do. The Navy should be the one that guarantees it still works," Moss said.
'You Did Nothing'
NASA wasn't completely immune to criticism at the hearing, coming under fire for not accepting an offer from Google's top three executives, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and Eric Schmidt, to restore the hangar in exchange for using it to park some of their aircraft.
The San Jose Mercury News previously reported that the three made an offer to NASA in 2011, proposing to pay the entire $33 million cost of redoing the hangar, as long as they could use two-thirds of its floor space for eight private jets.
"You guys sat on that for a year. You did nothing. You diddled. You dawdled. You Mickey Moused around," San Jose resident Bill Hough told NASA at the hearing. "So, I don't want to hear about costs because you guys had an offer on the table."
Google already has a tenant/landlord relationship with NASA, leasing over 42 acres of land at the Ames Research Center in 2008 to build up to 1.2 million square feet of offices and research and development facilities. Initial base rent for the 40-year lease was set at $3.66 million per year.