The Alameda Point waterfront that was once full of ships is looking different.
In mid-July, the last of the Maritime Administration (MARAD) Ready Reserve Force of ships left Alameda Point for new berths. The fleet, owned by the U.S. Department of Transportation, left Alameda because of the costs associated with dredging the channel. MARAD ships are on-call for transporting military supplies and providing humanitarian relief.
City staff will be seeking direction from the City Council in the near future on how to proceed with tapping the revenue potential at the vacant piers. Staff will also be seeking funding to repair severely deteriorated concrete support piles under Pier 2 and other deferred pier maintenance.
The eventual departure of the MARAD ships and loss of lease revenue has been anticipated for a decade, after it became clear that Congress was not going to provide any more funding for periodic dredging of the channel leading to the piers. “As you well know, going back to 2012 MARAD said that maintaining the channel depth was not economically feasible, and since then we have been working towards moving ships out of Alameda to avoid them getting trapped at the berth by a shallow channel,” said MARAD’s James R. Kahler in a December 21, 2021, letter to the City.
The City has collected over $35 million in lease revenue from MARAD during its two-decade tenure, all of it going into the Base Reuse Fund. At its peak in 2016, the City received $2.7 million. Of the eight ships that have berthed at Alameda Point in recent years, four have been moved to Oakland, three to San Francisco, and one to Benicia.
New economic development plan for piers coming soon
A post-MARAD economic development vision by the city for the piers never matured due to uncertainty about when the ships would all be gone. Initially the larger ships left, but the smaller ships hung on, since the silt build-up in the channel was not posing an immediate hazard. “When MARAD solicited a new berthing facility a few years ago, we were in discussion with two full service pier managers who would lease the piers and develop an improvement plan for us,” said Nanette Mocanu, Assistant Director of Base Reuse & Community Development. But that idea got shelved when MARAD did not leave. “We may consider going down that direction in the future,” said Mocanu, “but all of this needs to be discussed with the Council, and we need to get their input and direction. We have a bit more research to do.”
Funding needed for major pier repairs
The city may also consider a proposal to issue a bond that would fund the overdue structural repairs to the middle pier. An engineering study of the three Alameda Point piers was completed for the City in May 2017 and presented to the City Council in January 2018. Its purpose was to determine if the piers met the structural standards for mooring the MARAD ships. Piers 1 and 3 were rated satisfactory to continue mooring MARAD ships. Pier 2 was not satisfactory. “Certain regions of Pier 2 are not capable of meeting MARAD lease requirements due to concrete pile deterioration,” states the report. “The test of concrete core samples from the piles showed that concrete deterioration in many piles is in advanced stage, resulting in weakening and spalling of the concrete.”
To repair all 256 severely deteriorated piles under Pier 2 to original capacity was estimated to cost $10 million. Although the piles are severely deteriorated, enough strength remains that would allow them to be brought up to standards by installing jackets around the piles, according to the authors of the report, Simpson Gumpertz & Heger Inc.
Inspection photos in the report show piles with large sections of concrete missing due to saltwater erosion and rusting rebar exposed. There was even a pile cracked in two and only held together by the steel rebar, with the cause listed as impact.
“No major repairs have taken place, but we are currently working on a Tidelands bond from which we’d do several repairs on many Tidelands properties including Alameda Point piers,” said Mocanu. The bond would be backed by revenue collected from Tidelands leases, such as marinas. “We recently had our financial advisors run some numbers,” said Mocanu. “I hope to have movement on this in the Fall or Winter.” The bond would be authorized by the City Council and issued by the City’s Finance Authority.
The channel between land and the rock wall is roughly 30 feet deep and about twice the depth needed for ferries. Environmentalists point to one silver, or should we say brown, lining to the end of channel dredging. Marine habitat and marine life on the sea bed will no longer be disrupted by dredging.
The only remaining ship at Alameda Point is the USS Hornet Museum at Pier 3. The deck of Pier 1, except for a small access strip on the south side for mooring ships, as well as the Seaplane Lagoon side of Pier 1, are leased by Power Engineering Construction Company that builds marine projects and maintains a fleet of barges.
Meanwhile, MARAD still leases warehouse space at Alameda Point across the street from the Pottery Barn. It is unclear how long they will continue the lease.
[In addition to the City’s Base Reuse Fund losing lease revenue from MARAD, Alameda Municipal Power has lost one of its top 10 customers. In fiscal year 2021, for example, MARAD paid $1.089 million for electric service, which represented 3.47 percent of AMP’s total system.]
Originally published in the Alameda Sun.