On Sunday, November 11, 2011, Dutra Dredging wrapped up five weeks of maintenance dredging in the channel leading to the Alameda Point docks. This channel is on the south side of Alameda Point where the maritime ships and USS Hornet are docked. Half of the dredge soil went to the in-bay disposal site at Alcatraz. The other half, unfortunately, was towed 50 miles out into the ocean—past the Farallon Islands—for disposal at a federally approved disposal site. A multi-agency effort to divert dredge material to beneficial reuse in the Bay and Delta proved ineffective in this case.
Alameda leases dock space to the Maritime Administration (MARAD) for their ready reserve ships. Part of the agreement is that Alameda hires a company at MARAD’s expense to periodically dredge the channel. The recent contract approved in September called for 50 percent of dredge material to be disposed of at the Alcatraz site, and 50 percent in the ocean.
In late November, however, a request by the Bay Conservation and Development Commission to send the ocean portion to the Montezuma Wetlands restoration project in Solana County raised hopes for beneficial reuse. Dutra Dredging agreed, but Montezuma said they were unable to take material at this time due to a problem with the pipeline that the dredge slurry is pumped through.
There are several other beneficial reuse sites in the Bay Area listed in the long-term plan created by the San Francisco Bay Joint Venture. Even though this new policy of reducing dredge disposal within San Francisco Bay has been around since 1996, the joint venture failed to use Alameda’s dredging project to advance their goals. Instead, more fuel and good dredge soil was wasted.
A long list of agencies are on board for this new approach, from the Corps of Engineers to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which cites habitat restoration, levee maintenance, and construction fill as beneficial uses. Apparently the message from agency advocates in a March 2011 PowerPoint (slide #5) about dredge diversion is not being heeded: “Upland or wetland beneficial re-use sites must come on line, and be practicable for enough dredgers to use.”
Partnering Opportunities for Alameda Point Wetlands Creation
On a positive note, it came to light in doing research that there may be opportunities in the San Francisco Bay estuary enhancement effort for Alameda to get some support for wetlands creation at Alameda Point. One of the “Restoring the Estuary” objectives is “pursuit of military base closure opportunities for wetland enhancement and restoration.” This objective got traction during the past four years at the Hamilton Army Airfield wetland restoration project where thousands of cubic yards of dredge material were deposited.
At Alameda Point, we don’t need more soil to create wetlands in the runway area – we need to dig some out. We could use some regional help.