News About Cleanup, Sustainability, Parks, Open Space, and Wildlife at Alameda Point, Alameda, CA
Category: Ferry Facilities Projects
The San Francisco Bay Water Emergency Transit Authority (WETA) is constructing a ferry maintenance facility on the south side of Alameda Point. WETA, in partnership with the city and developer Alameda Point Partners, will be constructing a passenger ferry terminal in the Seaplane Lagoon, which is projected to be operational by 2020.
Alameda Point is on the cusp of a new era in civilian reuse. Plans for construction of residential neighborhoods and commercial space are taking form, alongside growing productive reuse of aircraft hangars. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is poised to begin the first phase of their $240 million clinic and columbarium project. In addition, the Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA) is studying plans for accommodating their increasing ferry ridership.
Construction of the ferry maintenance facility at Alameda Point is delayed another year. Originally scheduled to begin in August of this year, the project is on hold while the Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA) seeks a federal permit allowing for harassment of harbor seals during demolition and construction.
The public, beginning in January of 2014, raised concerns about the harbor seals being displaced at the project site. The Central Bay Operations and Maintenance Facility is slated for construction east of the USS Hornet where the Navy operated a recreational boating dock.
Part of the dock structure has sunk, but the main dock and remnant timbers have attracted harbor seals in recent years that manage to haul themselves up onto the wooden islands to rest. In May 2014, a female harbor seal was observed nursing a pup on the old dock and leading the pup in training exercises around the dock area.
In its permit application published in the Federal Register on September 17, 2014, the description of the type of harassment for which WETA is seeking a permit is limited to sounds emitted during demolition of the existing pilings and hammering in new ones.
The application makes only passing reference to residents having observed seals at the site. The loss of a resting site is not contemplated in the federal review, even though the Marine Mammal Protection Act lists habitat loss as a form of harassment. A haul-out resting site is considered habitat integral to the welfare of seals.
The permit is being processed as part of a federal Environmental Assessment and is being prepared by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). The NMFS is an arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that enforces the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), as well as aquatic components of the Endangered Species Act.
The permit being applied for by WETA is called an Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA). An IHA “Level A” involves injury to a marine mammal. “Level B” involves disruption of behavioral patterns. The WETA permit is Level B.
The preliminary conclusion of NMFS is that no significant impact will occur, especially in light of the acoustical mitigation measures worked out between WETA and NMFS. The mitigation measures call for gradual start-ups to demolition and dock construction work, a sound curtain in the water, and NMFS-approved biological monitors.
Despite the fact that a regular haul-out site will be eliminated with the dock removal, NMFS concludes, “No permanent impacts to marine mammal habitat are proposed to or would occur as a result of the proposed Project.” WETA’s proposed facility “would not modify the existing habitat. Therefore, no restoration of the habitat would be necessary,” stated NMFS.
The most recent harbor seal data for the area cited by NMFS in the application is from 1998. It highlights Breakwater Island, the rocky barrier forming the south side of the Alameda Point Channel, as “the only haul-out site in the Central Bay that is accessible to seals throughout the full tidal range.”
The Alameda Point seals have been seen again in the project area in recent weeks after an absence of a few months, which corresponds with behavior predicted by NMFS. Citing harbor seal research, NMFS stated, “Haul-out sites are relatively consistent from year to year, and females have been recorded returning to their own natal haul-out when breeding.”
The public can submit comments no later than October 17, 2014. Pending review of the comments, the NMFS may impose additional mitigation measures. Comments can be sent via email to:email@example.com. Paper mail to: Jolie Harrison, Chief, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910.
WETA will also need a permit from the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, which follows state rules regarding marine mammal impacts. WETA will be leasing the site from the city, and still needs to conclude a lease agreement and obtain a building permit. Demolition and dredging at the site can only occur between August 1 and November 30 due to foraging by least terns in the spring and summer and fish migration in late fall. The permit is for 2015.
The project was authorized by WETA in 2009 and has been undergoing review ever since. It will include berths for 11 ferries, a service yard and a four-story workshop and administration building. The facility would also function as an emergency operation center for passenger service in the event of an emergency.
A public hearing is scheduled for January 6, 2014 in San Francisco to take comments on the proposed facility for Bay ferries at Alameda Point. It is the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) Design Review Board’s first hearing to determine if the project complies with guidelines for ensuring maximum public shoreline access, preserving scenic views, and enhancing the shoreline visual experience through appropriate design appearance.
Located on Hornet Avenue at Ferry Point Road near the U.S.S. Hornet on a four-acre site to be leased from the City of Alameda, the facility will service and maintain ferries owned by the Water Emergency Transit Authority (WETA) operating in the Central Bay. The project will include a 70-foot-tall four story building for maintenance, dispatch, and administrative tasks, a service yard, and floating berthing facilities for 12 vessels. Demolition of the old recreational dock and retaining wall, and dredging of the berthing area is scheduled to begin in the summer of 2014.
A variety of activities will take place at the facility, including refueling ferries from new underground fuel tanks, bilge and sewer pump-out, fluid replenishment, repair and replacement of vessel equipment, trash disposal, cleaning and painting of vessels, and storage and replenishment of concessionary items for passengers.
WETA, in consultation with BCDC staff, proposes enhancements to the adjacent park area owned by the city. The proposal that BCDC is seeking comment on would realign and extend the existing Bay Trail so that it better serves as a connection to the U.S.S. Hornet Museum and the existing public access areas through the maritime ship site to the Seaplane Lagoon. Approximately 100 feet of the existing trail and path would be removed and replaced with approximately 145 feet of new 10-foot wide trail and path.
According to the BCDC staff report, “In addition, a new 17-foot-wide extension of the Bay Trail would be constructed along the 289-foot northern length of the project site along Hornet Avenue. This portion of the trail would include a two-foot-wide landscaped area adjacent to the project site, 12 new street trees in three-foot by six-foot tree wells adjacent to a six-inch curb and an 11.5-foot-wide pedestrian and bicycle trail. Beyond this area and through the Hornet and MARAD [maritime ship] site, signage would indicate the route for pedestrians and bicyclists.”
The BCDC report continues by saying, “Approximately 6,850 square feet of the park would be landscaped between the realigned trail and the project site, including irrigated turf and low lush planting with a break in the landscaping provided to create ‘windows’ into the work yard. Interpretive signage would describe the unique working waterfront activities. Nine trees in three clusters are proposed to better define the spatial qualities of the setting and to provide shade and visual interest. In addition, six benches are planned along the shoreline. Opposite the benches will be an interpretive sign describing the role and function of the WETA berthing facilities.”
One impact not accounted for in WETA’s state and federal environmental reviews is the displacement of harbor seals when WETA removes the old dock that is used as a haul out. Constructing an anchored floating platform nearby for harbor seals and birds would make up for the old dock that has served as a wildlife resting site since base closure 16 years ago. WETA should add a wildlife platform to its budget. Wildlife and the visiting public will greatly appreciate it.
The Monday, January 6, 2014 hearing will be held at the BCDC McAteer-Petris Conference Room, 455 Golden Gate Avenue, Suite 10600, San Francisco. The hearing begins at 6:30 pm. For information about the meeting, the public is directed to contact Ellen Miramontes at (415) 352-3643 firstname.lastname@example.org.