The planned U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Alameda Point healthcare facility and columbarium will eliminate about 12 acres of existing wetland on the former Navy aircraft runway area. The federal Clean Water Act requires that the VA compensate, or mitigate, for the adverse effects of their project. But the proceedings have been cloaked in secrecy.
In February 2017, five months after submitting a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for information related to wetlands, the VA provided a copy of a consultant’s study on the feasibility of expanding and enhancing a different wetland on VA property. But the document arrived with over half of the study either blacked out or stamped “Page withheld in its entirety.”
The Navy’s cleanup program has not only removed toxic substances from below ground, it has dramatically improved some of the above ground environment by creating new native grassland and wetlands. January rains filled the Navy’s new seasonal wetland on the northwest shoreline corner of Alameda Point and fostered growth of newly planted native grass seed on the surrounding soil.
The 2.25-acre wetland lies within an approximately 37-acre shoreline cleanup area known as Site 1 at the confluence of the Oakland Estuary and San Francisco Bay. It is where the Navy buried its waste between 1943 and 1956. Most of the waste pits were covered by pavement in the mid-1950s when a new runway was added.
The approved plan for leaving the waste in place was completed in 2015 after 17 years of study by state and federal regulatory agencies. None of the studies showed any toxic leaching from the waste material into Bay waters after sitting below the water table for more than 50 years. Hence, the plan to further isolate the waste with a soil cover mirrors the remedy used at other underground dumps.
The Navy will be responsible in perpetuity if anything fails, just as with other Superfund cleanup sites at Alameda Point.
The Navy was required to create the new wetland as a mitigation measure for covering existing wetland with some of the soil cover. The secondary objective was to provide increased native plant and wildlife habitat along San Francisco Bay.
This mitigation requirement means that marginal wetlands that appeared by happenstance from runway drainage have now been replaced by a high quality engineered wetland. The new wetland holds a much larger volume of water and is situated to capture runoff from the soil cover. It is also engineered at a lower elevation than the wetlands it replaces, thereby increasing water retention and allowing for recharging as sea level rises. There is no waste material located below the new wetland.
After removing old pavement and sculpting the site, the wetland substrate was created using imported clean fill material and topsoil. The soil was then amended with gypsum and potassium sulfate to facilitate growth of wetland plant species.
Learning a bitter lesson from a failed attempt in 2014 to grow native grasses by blowing seeds from a truck onto the soil at the nearby Site 2 cleanup area, the Navy used a different method at both sites. Known as drill seeding, the method involves cutting into the soil with a disc machine and simultaneously depositing seeds. It is followed up with a mulch cover.
Thirteen grass species were planted on the lower zone of the new wetland where longer-term saturation will occur. Another seven species were planted on the upper zone. The seeded area was then covered with mulch. The soil cover over the former dump received another eight species of native grass seed. The palette includes such grasses as chairmaker’s bulrush, seaside heliotrope, Baltic rush, white yarrow, and coyote brush, all of which produce flowers.
The Site 1 grassland and wetland is on land slated to be transferred to the city at no cost and to become part of a 147-acre regional park. Plans call for additional wild grassland and wetlands.
The Navy’s new wetland sits directly atop the original narrow landmass extending into the Bay that carried train cars to a ferry terminal at the site. Completed in 1859, this strip was called the Alameda Mole.
The Navy’s grassland and wetland work at Site 1 and Site 2 on the old airfield is the only ecological habitat creation, other than the placement of sand on the 9.6-acre least tern nesting site, since military operations ended in April of 1997.
(Hint: It’s behind Building 25 and was temporarily enlarged on Thursday.)
Rain on Thursday, December 11, led to flooding on three sides of Building 25 at 1951 Monarch Street, as well as on the south side of the Control Tower. Building 25 is adjacent to the wetland on federal VA property called Runway Wetland.
Building 25 was slated for removal in the original Waterfront Town Center conceptual drawing to make way for a wetland park called De-pave Park. By early 2014, city staff decided instead to lease the building, convincing the city council to follow. The plan now calls for protecting the building with a levee, which could be decades away. Continue reading “Find the wetland near Building 25 at Alameda Point”
It’s more likely a new wetland will be created on the western shoreline of the Seaplane Lagoon at Alameda Point, thanks to lobbying efforts led by the Sierra Club.
On July 1, 2014, the Alameda City Council added language to the Alameda Point Town Center and Waterfront Specific Plan that raises the commitment to remove pavement from the western side of the Seaplane Lagoon for wetland—an area called De-Pave Park. Lobbying efforts convinced the council to include the following options to help facilitate the wetland park creation: 1) creating a wetland mitigation bank; 2) adding the area to a possible national wildlife refuge on the federal property; and 3) working with local community members who may identify funding sources for creating the passive park area.Continue reading “Wetland park plan at Seaplane Lagoon gets a boost”
The city’s west side of the Seaplane Lagoon at Alameda Point is mostly pavement – acres of it – with a few old buildings abutting a wetland on the federal property. The city claims its long-range plan for this area features a conversion to a wetland habitat, but their only commitment is to continue leasing the buildings to generate revenue while allowing a sea of unnecessary pavement to remain as an environmental blight.
Opportunities for implementing ecosystem enhancement, both short and long term, have yet to be explored for this area. We need to start moving in a direction now that benefits the environment by reducing climate impacts, improves the atmosphere around nearby businesses, adds to public enjoyment, and increases wildlife habitat.
Proposal for ecosystem enhancement
Short-term plan – Remove all pavement not required for commercial tenants. Recycle the pavement at the VA’s Alameda Point project site where they will be raising elevation and need base rock and fill. Once the pavement is removed and the soil exposed, native vegetation could be planted. Native vegetation will absorb CO2, produce oxygen, eliminate the heat island effect of the former pavement, add wildlife habitat, improve the aesthetic appearance of the property, and make it attractive as a hiking, jogging, and cycling destination.
Step 1 – Set aside money from lease revenue generated on the west side of the Seaplane Lagoon for pavement removal and introduction of native plant vegetation.
Step 2 – Explore recycling pavement at Alameda Point.
Step 3 – Explore grant sources for conversion of paved areas to native vegetation, i.e., state air quality board, EPA, State Lands Commission, etc.
Long-term plan –Establish an Alameda Point Wetland Mitigation Bank, which would incorporate the west Seaplane Lagoon acreage along with 50 acres on the northwest side of Alameda Point (Northwest Territories). Investment money would provide the capital for wetland creation, with money being recouped when mitigation credits are sold to developers elsewhere in the Bay watershed to offset their project’s impacts. As a general rule, a tidal wetland is worth at least as much as it would cost to create it. That’s why businesses exist that specialize in mitigation banks. In theory at least, the wetland project could be self-funding.
Step 1 – Commission a study on wetland mitigation bank formation using lease revenue from Buildings 25 and 29.
Returning part of the Seaplane Lagoon shoreline to nature is one of the biggest changes that have emerged in the planning process at Alameda Point. The design proposal for the western side of the Seaplane Lagoon echoes the major theme of the Greenspace Project of Golden Gate University’s Center on Urban Environmental Law – the interconnected ecosystem.
The draft Town Center and Waterfront Precise Plan for the Seaplane Lagoon and eastern entrance area, presented to the Planning Board on August 21, offers a number of new concepts, including moving the proposed marina from the west side of the lagoon to the east side. The waterfront plan is being refined concurrently with zoning changes, an environmental impact report, and a master infrastructure plan, which are all aimed at providing the level of detail necessary for the city to start marketing property to investors in 2014.
In reporting to the Planning Board on design plans of the city’s consultant, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM), city staff stated: “Due to the vast scale of the study area and the Seaplane Lagoon as its centerpiece, the Town Center will be able to support a wide variety of unique waterfront experiences—some of which build and expand upon existing assets and activities, some of which introduce entirely new opportunities. SOM proposes the following four waterfront zones and experiences:
1. Natural environment—along the western edge of the Seaplane Lagoon with trails, docks, camping, outdoor sculpture and wetlands.
2. Promenade and recreational opportunities—along the northern edge, with early phased soccer fields, food concessions, bike and pedestrian paths, open lawn, and kayak access.
3. Urban edge—along the eastern side and portions of northern edge with marinas, docks, eating patios, overlooks, and ferry service.
4. Industrial—further south on the eastern side with maritime uses located near the MARAD ships and the USS Hornet.”
Climate adaptation grant funding needed – As currently envisioned, however, the de-paving, removal of buildings, and alteration of the western Seaplane Lagoon shoreline area is put off into the distant Phase 3 future — a decade or more from now — when presumably a surplus of infrastructure funds will allow for implementation. One option available for timelier implementation would be to begin now seeking grant funding from agencies that focus on shoreline climate change adaptation. There will be no commercial development on the western side of the lagoon, and therefore the project would become a public asset.
Lying directly to the west on the Nature Reserve is the Runway Wetland, whose habitat value would be greatly enhanced by a connection to the Seaplane Lagoon. Additionally, the draft Master Infrastructure Plan predicts a $10 million savings if the area were allowed to become tidal wetland as sea level rises.
Unless otherwise noted, all photos are copyright Richard Bangert. Permission requests appreciated before reproducing. See “About” page for contact info.
This interview with wildlife biologist Leora Feeney was done in 2008 as part of the San Francisco Bay Joint Venture’s “Your Wetlands” series.
Clickhere, or on image below, to access the podcast.
The only updates are that the Loggerhead Shrikes are no longer seen nesting on the western shoreline following cleanup work that was performed. And the Harriers have not been seen nesting at Alameda Point in recent years.
The refuge remains a unique wildlife habitat that deserves permanent protection.