The City of Alameda announced on February 22 that it will be preparing an environmental impact report (EIR) on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) project for a health clinic and columbarium cemetery at Alameda Point. The VA completed its environmental review for the project in 2013. The deadline for commenting on what the city should evaluate is March 22.
The belated environmental review was triggered by California regulations requiring a state EIR in order for the Regional Water Quality Control Board to approve the VA’s wetland mitigation plan.
An EIR is also required for City of Alameda approvals. “Although construction of federal facilities by federal agencies is typically exempt from local land use regulations and review,” said city planner Andrew Thomas, “in this case, the VA plans to construct an access utility/road on approximately 6-acres of city land to the east of the VA Transfer Parcel and two new storm drains across city-owned land to the north of the VA property, which will require approval of easements from the city, which are discretionary actions subject to CEQA [California Environmental Quality Act].”
Revisiting the project’s environmental impacts six years after the VA completed its review presents an opportunity to evaluate the potential environmental benefits of locating the medical clinic and benefits offices in the business “Enterprise District” rather than in the open space on the former airfield.
The Sierra Club has requested that the city evaluate an alternative 20-acre site for the VA’s medical clinic and benefits offices where the city offered 45 acres for free to the Berkeley Lab for its second campus in 2011. The area is located near the U.S.S. Hornet Museum in the business Enterprise District.
“This subdistrict at the southeast corner of Alameda Point is located within walking distance of planned transit services at Seaplane Lagoon,” said Norman La Force, Legal Chair for the San Francisco Bay Chapter. “The shorter travel distance for veterans and employees and availability of regular bus and ferry services will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” The VA medical clinic and benefits offices will have 250 employees and handle over 500 patient visits per day.
The EIR will include a detailed analysis of the potential transportation impacts and feasible mitigations to minimize impacts to automobile, transit, bicycle, and pedestrian travel. It will also evaluate the VA’s plans for expanding and enhancing wetlands on its property and the impacts, if any, on the city’s plans for an adjacent wetland park called De-Pave Park.
Congress delayed the project in 2015 when it said it no longer trusted the VA to manage its own construction projects due to massive cost overruns. It took until 2018 for the VA to transfer construction management to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The VA is now ready to seek certification for its wetland mitigation plan. The VA’s project will impact 10 acres of existing wetlands. However, the VA plans on replacing only seven of those acres on its property. It is proposing instead to purchase credits in a wetland mitigation bank for an already-completed restoration project in Redwood City for the remaining three acres.
The Sierra Club questioned the wetland credit scheme. “Purchasing credits in a mitigation bank is only warranted when on-site mitigation is either impossible, or would have poor quality or no quality due to poor chances for success,” said La Force. “The area surrounding the Runway Wetland, where seven acres of wetland are being proposed as mitigation for project impacts, can easily accommodate another three acres.”
Comments on the scope of review of the project should be sent to City of Alameda Planner Andrew Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published in the Alameda Sun.
Another reason to locate the clinic in the Enterprise District – sea level rise.
The Enterprise District is at higher elevation, requiring less geotechnical work to prepare the site, as illustrated with this sea level rise map projecting 52 inches of sea level rise.