Lake Merced transfer helps clear the way for cleanup, recreation at site 

click to enlarge Pollution solutions: A gun club at Lake Merced has stopped using lead shot and clay pigeons, which contain pollutants - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
  • Pollution solutions: A gun club at Lake Merced has stopped using lead shot and clay pigeons, which contain pollutants

For years, Lake Merced’s future has been murky. Plans to clean the surrounding waterfront and improve recreational opportunities generated more talk than action.

But last week, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission approved a transfer of land at the lake, which will help clear the road for a $10.7 million cleanup of land occupied by the Pacific Rod and Gun Club.

The proposed cleanup now shifts the focus on progress at Lake Merced to long-stalled plans for a renovated boathouse and waterfront recreation such as kayaking, stand-up paddling and day camps.

The agency completed its investigation of soil contamination on a 14-acre site on the southern shore of Lake Merced and found elevated levels of lead, arsenic and other contaminants stemming from historical use of lead shot and clay targets containing poly-aromatic hydrocarbons. The club has discontinued the use of lead shot and clay pigeons.

“We’ll be negotiating with the gun club to have them pay for any associated lead cleanup activities,” said SFPUC spokesman Tyrone Jue. “You don’t have to be a marksman to clearly see how the site contamination is a result of their decadeslong use of lead shot.”

But public utilities commissioners expressed frustration about the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department’s delay in upgrading the area. And instead of approving a new agreement with the department, they requested more specific program details and funding.

“If our land is lying fallow and is a community nuisance and is not being managed properly then we have no choice but to step in and do something,” said commission President Anson Moran last week. “My message is: Use it or lose it, and show us quickly what you can do.”

Rec and Park General Manager Phil Ginsburg said there is “really good news” on the horizon for Lake Merced, including $2 million that’s part of a proposed November parks bond for capital improvements.

“We are all impatient to fulfill the incredible potential for waterfront recreation on the lake,” he said. For instance, the renovated clubhouse will offer an exercise room and program space, and sell fishing tackle, Ginsburg said. And the department plans summer and fall programs at the lake.

The lake is currently used by about seven different organizations, including California’s largest dragon-boating club. Rec and Park also manages the adjacent Harding Park Golf Course. But not everyone is thrilled with the department, and some want the SFPUC to take total control of the lake.

Jerry Cadagan of the Committee to Save Lake Merced said the agency should take its own steps to bring in a fishing concessionaire. “That’s the only thing recreationwise that’s needed out there,” he said. “We don’t need kayaking lessons. We don’t need rowing lessons. We don’t need fishing lessons.”

Correction: This article was updated on May 15, 2012. A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that money for the cleanup at Lake Merced was approved. The transfer of the land at the lake was approved, but the money for the cleanup is still in negotiations.

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