The Navy is seeking new members to serve on its volunteer Restoration Advisory Board (RAB), which reviews and comments on environmental cleanup of the former Navy base. The Navy is also conducting an online community survey to better understand the interests and concerns about the environmental cleanup at the base.
Despite all the new construction at Alameda Point, there are still a variety of cleanup issues for the Navy and regulators to address. Some issues are new, some involve the long-term monitoring of sites that maxed out the active remediation methods and now rely on natural biological degradation of the remaining contaminant. And sometimes ongoing monitoring results show that the remediation has not sufficiently reduced a contaminant. This leads to follow-up work plans, which are vetted by the RAB.
The RAB meets virtually or in-person four times a year, and asks for a two-year commitment. The commitment is small, but the reward is great. The meetings always feature a presentation by the Navy about cleanup plans, and representatives of the regulatory agencies and the city are in attendance. Comments, questions, and criticism are encouraged.
The RAB was formed in 1994 with 22 community members who met monthly. Today there are six active members who meet quarterly. The dwindling participation and fewer meetings is partly due to the maturity of the cleanup program, which has allowed most of the land at Alameda Point to be transferred out of Navy hands. And part of the decline in membership is due to deaths or old age.
Major events like the announced closing of the base or various redevelopment plans have been motivating factors for many to join the RAB over the years. Newly-elected Community Co-Chair Dr. Carol Gottstein became involved right after master developer SunCal’s ballot initiative was defeated in 2010 by an 85 percent no vote. “This piqued my interest,” said Gottstein. “I was curious about what was still going on out there after 20 years.”
Gottstein attended a few RAB meetings and learned that the environmental cleanup issues were both complex and challenging. “The existing RAB members had varying backgrounds and levels of expertise, but none had a background in medicine or chemistry like me, so I also thought I could be useful,” said Gottstein.
Restoration Advisory Boards were created jointly by the Department of Defense (DoD) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1994 as a way to offer an opportunity for communities to provide input to the cleanup process. “The boards are a forum for exchange of information and partnership among citizens, the installation, EPA, and State,” states the Implementation Guidelines. “It is our view that RABs will improve DoD’s cleanup program by increasing community understanding and support for cleanup efforts, improving the soundness of government decisions, and ensuring cleanups are responsive to community needs.”
Gottstein’s involvement with the environmental cleanup program represents a new chapter in her connection with the Navy base. Here parents were naval officers who met and married at the base. “I grew up running around out there, using the pool and library; eating buffets at the Officers Club; and participating in anti-Vietnam War protests when the Big E [USS Enterprise] was in port,” said Gottstein. “But I hadn’t paid much attention since 1997 when the base closed.”
Gottstein said that she believes there is still strong interest in the environmental cleanup issues at Alameda Point, as evidenced by misinformed comments she frequently reads on social media implying that nothing much has been done to clean up the base.
In fact over $500 million has been spent on cleanup. But much of the cleanup activity goes unseen because the equipment is only on site for a short time, or the cleanup work happens indoors or on off-limits areas making it invisible to visitors. Or, in the case of the workers drilling a series of groundwater monitoring wells in the photo below, the purpose of the work is not obvious.
To apply for membership on the RAB, please fill out the short autofill pdf here. No special expertise is required, just a desire to participate. Those with a background in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics would be especially welcomed. You can also write to the Navy Environmental Coordinator Dave Darrow directly at email@example.com if you have any questions.
The next meeting of the RAB is on Thursday, March 23, 2023, 6:30 pm at City Hall West, 950 West Mall Square, Building 1, Room 201, at Alameda Point.
The Navy is updating its Community Involvement Plan and, as part of that update, it is asking people to complete an online survey to better understand community interests and concerns about the environmental cleanup at the base. It also wants to better understand the best ways to share information.
A good overview of the Superfund cleanup process is available by reading the previous Community Involvement Plan.
Originally published on the Alameda Post.
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