Alameda Wildlife Refuge committee touts benefits of VA/parkland deal

CA Least Tern nesting site at Alameda Point Wildlife Refuge

The following was prepared by Leora Feeney, co-chair of  “Friends of the Alameda Wildlife Refuge,” a committee of the Golden Gate Audubon Society.

Delivered to the Alameda City Council on Monday, March 19, 2012, regarding the city-VA-park district proposal being considered for Alameda Point.  

Alameda Point Collaboration

on

Veterans Health and Memorial Facilities

CA Least Tern Colony

Nature and Wildlife

Passive Open Space

Unsurpassed Inner-City Views and Experience

Subject:  East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) proposal for Northwest Territories

Benefits to the City of Alameda

Preserves city resources – The proposal will help defer considerable Alameda Point related costs and responsibility to the city, already having multiple difficult challenges.

Meets land use challenges – The land is not suitable for uses beyond open space and water-related uses.  Current wetlands will require mitigation.  Several issues surround this property that will meet challenges with most development proposals.

Enhances Alameda’s identity – Alameda’s military history, well-recognized wildlife history and resources, and East Bay shoreline location make this project the perfect fit to further enhance Alameda’s identity.

Realizes payoff from stakeholder investments – Consider stakeholders’ investments that also benefit Alameda:

  • The VA has spent millions of dollars to move their city-supported project forward.  The proposal would allow them to see an end to conflicts that have stalled this investment.  Alameda would finally become the home to the VA’s Health and Memorial complex.
  • The City of Alameda has also invested time and thought to uphold a position that supports the VA facility and that endangered wildlife at Alameda Point are to have top priority.
  • The Navy and Fish & Wildlife Service have invested time and money to maintain endangered wildlife species.
  • EBRPD has spent time and money to develop a plan that would resolve difficulties in a way that would meet several positive goals.
  • Golden Gate Audubon Society since the 1980s and Friends of the Alameda Wildlife Refuge (FAWR) since 1997 have been steadfast supporters of endangered California Least Terns at The Alameda Naval Air Station, later Alameda Point, ensuring continuous success of the colony.  FAWR also provides annual elementary school Least Tern education at Alameda Schools.
  • Others, like the Center for Urban Environmental Law (CUEL) at Golden Gate University, have worked to develop their Greenspace proposal for this beautiful location.

Initiates Park District investment – To design and carry out the project will require an investment of many millions of dollars.  The city will benefit from this investment by EBRPD.

Enhances property values – Several studies show that wildlife refuges and natural areas increase values to nearby properties.

Attracts investors – The project will attract investors, spurring Alameda Point development.

Strengthens tenant relations – Current tenants will appreciate that habitat management will have a broader plan and operation.

Attracts tourism – The project – a San Francisco Bay destination point – will be a draw to local, state, national, and even world tourists.

Brings local spending – The site will attract many welcome and diverse activities (photography, birding, hiking) that will benefit local merchants.

Adopts a workable solution – This is the only solution available that will allow both CA Least Terns and the VA project to coexist as adjacent Alameda neighbors.

Satisfies community priorities – The project satisfies a strong wish of the public for natural areas and open space expressed during Alameda Point-Going Forward meetings held in 2010-2011.

Creates inner-city showcase – The site will serve the community and others as a unique opportunity for inner-city nature experience and education.

Enhances parks-to-resident ratio – Alameda’s Park Master Plan Summary (Draft, p. 25) states that the park-acreage-to-residents ratio is low (2 acres to 1000 residents; standard for CA cities is 3 to 6 acres/1000).  This proposal would improve the ratio considerably.

Aligns with park master plan – The draft Park Master Plan also states (p. 37), “Alameda Point is anticipated to be the location for passive parks operated by EBRPD.”

Builds on existing park district partnership – EBRPD has been a good partner managing Crown Beach, relieving Alameda of difficult tidal shoreline and beach management.  We can count on them for similar assistance at Alameda Point.

In conclusion:  The CA Least Tern colony can’t be moved, and the VA facility can.  The willingness of this unusual collaboration of stakeholders to work together is a testament to the importance of the project.  It is rare and refreshing to see that people with diverse goals have the ability to work together to find a solution that satisfies multiple valued needs in difficult times.  With the acceptance of this proposal Alameda will be a giant step closer to moving Alameda Point toward a promising future. We must not let this opportunity escape. The alternative would be tragic, a prolonged stalemate and unknown future.  Alameda’s City Council can make this work.  It will be a historical decision.

Read more about this issue here.

Least Tern chick and adult - Summer 2011

SF Bay Estuary Plan Fails to Connect with Alameda Point

Dredging Alameda Point Channel around the clock

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. Continue reading “SF Bay Estuary Plan Fails to Connect with Alameda Point”

Wetlands, Trails, Natural Habitat Concept Drawings for Alameda Point

Proposed Flight Park and Wetlands

The borderless ecosystem – On September 1, 2011, Golden Gate University’s Center on Environmental Law published their proposal for a unified planning process and expansive view for open space at Alameda Point.  The central theme of their effort is that the true potential for conservation at Alameda Point lies in thinking of the area as one contiguous ecosystem of land and water.  In doing so, not only is there benefit to wildlife and the environment in general, there is also benefit to our efforts at economic development by making Alameda Point a highly desirable location with a signature identity – Flight Park.

Perimeter boardwalk (Bay Trail) through park

Flight Park is their suggested name for a unified open space system that would bring to mind larger-scale landmark open space systems like the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.  Bringing together regional, state, and federal agencies to adopt and implement conservation efforts will be far more effective in the long run than waiting for, say, the VA to appropriate money for habitat conservation (not their core mission), or the city of Alameda getting enough attention to secure millions in wetlands monies. 

Moving the VA facilities – Perhaps the most controversial proposal within the Flight Park concept is moving the proposed VA facilities off of the Wildlife Refuge to a spot further east at Alameda Point.  While coming late in the process for transferring land to the VA, it is not without merit.  The Golden Gate Audubon Society has long opposed the sighting of VA buildings on the Wildlife Refuge as an intrusion into the habitat of the endangered California Least Tern.  The Flight Park designers see the VA buildings as a visual obstruction on an otherwise wild and open bay front parcel.

Boardwalk through proposed wetlands

There is good reason for the VA to work with the City of Alameda on moving their buildings, if not their columbarium, closer to the old “Main Gate” on the north side of Alameda Point.  Services will be easier to get to for veterans, and the infrastructure to their site will be less expensive.  There is still time – the VA has not spent their $17 million for this year on design, and therefore they have not requested money for the project in next year’s budget proposal.

The East Bay Regional Park District has been ready and willing to take on the management of regional park facilities at Alameda Point for over a decade.  In 2009 they set aside $6.5 million for Alameda Point shoreline restoration and the Bay Trail.

Existing wetlands on Northwest Territories

Wetlands Mitigation Bank – Professor Paul Kibel, co-director of the Center on Urban and Environmental Law and leader behind the Flight Park concept, argues that there is also funding potential in the creation of a Wetlands Mitigation Bank such as has been created in many California communities to accumulate funds for creating or restoring wetlands.  An experienced environmental lawyer, he has offered to assist the city in any way he can in setting up such a wetlands bank.  One of our first contributions would likely come from the Navy, which will owe us some wetlands due to their coming remediation plans for the Northwest Territories.  Typically, two acres of wetland must be created for each single acre removed.

Seaplane Lagoon grassland promenade with Control Tower converted to nature observation center

In Sum – The Flight Park drawings offer an inspiring look at what could be at Alameda Point.  It is a vision that merges well with recent sustainability presentations that call for diverting storm water to wetlands and marshes at Alameda Point.  Urge our city council to discuss this initiative.  It would build on Alameda’s reputation as a city dedicated to environmental sustainability.

CUEL Booklet on Flight Park at Alameda Point

More images in the Environmental Report’s Flickr gallery.

Landmark Destination Park System for Alameda Point

Greenspace Project's concept for interconnected park system at Alameda Point. Shown as an overlay on existing "Going Forward" city map. Red letters indicate project additions. Link to map with zoom feature at end of post.

Parks and open space planning for Alameda Point has been hobbling along for 15 years.  We still do not know when or who will be welcoming visitors to the Wildlife Refuge.  We still do not know who, when, or what will happen with the Northwest Territories.  These two areas, located in the runway portion of Alameda Point, comprise over 700 acres.  Linking these two areas together with the Seaplane Lagoon frontage and the future Enterprise Park extending to the Encinal Boat Ramp is the vision of the recently launched Greenspace Project at Golden Gate University (GGU). 

The Greenspace Project wants to get all the stakeholders – local, regional, state, and federal – in one room, on the same page, so that not only Alameda, but the entire region, can benefit from the exceptional and rare opportunity for creating a world-class park system at Alameda Point.  And they want to do it now, before the Environmental Impact Report for Alameda Point is drafted.

The Greenspace Project is under the umbrella of GGU’s Center on Urban Environmental Law (CUEL).  Alameda Point is the Project’s first endeavor, and they are partnering with the Washington, DC-based Urban Land Institute (ULI).  They have retained the landscape planning services of accomplished open space planner Stephanie Landregan. Continue reading “Landmark Destination Park System for Alameda Point”

Environmental Cleanup – Update on Site 1

Site 1 indicated by blue line. Yellow line indicates entire area used by Navy as a disposal area from 1943 to 1956. Red indicates waste pit that caused groundwater contamination. Navy photo and overlay.

Groundwater

The Navy is proceeding with plans to remediate contaminated groundwater at the old disposal site at the northwest tip of Alameda Point.  The contaminated groundwater is within the area known as Site 1, which encompasses over half of the old dump.  In one particular area of the dump, the Navy routinely dumped liquid waste material.  No one knows for sure how much of it was in drums that may still be rusting away, and how much was just poured into the pit.

Some current and former members of the Restoration Advisory Board (RAB) have long been concerned as to whether the size of the plume has been adequately characterized, meaning how wide and how deep.  The main issue is its proximity to the Bay and whether remediation measures will prevent any of the hazardous compounds from entering Bay water. Continue reading “Environmental Cleanup – Update on Site 1”

Point Being: Are Point Veggies Safe?

Part of area where veggies were studied - near Main Gate and Big Whites.

Is it safe to eat vegetables grown at Alameda Point? A little-known EPA study conducted in 2005 around the Big Whites and Alameda Point Collaborative housing tried to answer that question. In the study, researchers collected fruits, vegetables and edible weed plants such as apples, figs, tomatoes, fava bean seeds, and also flowers of Cat’s Ear which people had been observed gathering for food.

The fruits and vegetables were gathered for the study from 15 locations and analyzed to see if PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) were absorbed by the root systems and transferred to the edible parts. PAHs occur in oil, coal, and tar, and can be produced by forest fires and car exhaust. They are of particular concern in the tested area because rail cars once carried oil products along the northern shore and also because dredge soils from the Oakland Estuary used to form Alameda Point contained byproducts from the coal gasification plant that once operated in Oakland near the estuary. Some of the chemicals in the PAH family, notably benzo(a)pyrene, have been identified as carcinogenic by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Even though some of the soil areas contained elevated levels of PAHs, the edible parts of the plants were found not to contain any contaminants. “None of the 16 PAH congeners on the EPA Priority Pollutant List was detected in any of the plant samples collected from the site,” the report says. Continue reading “Point Being: Are Point Veggies Safe?”