Find the wetland near Building 25 at Alameda Point

(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.   

Flooding next to Building 25 (behind camera), looking toward Control Tower and Port of Oakland.  VA federal property on the left.
Flooding next to Building 25 (behind camera), looking toward Control Tower and Port of Oakland. VA federal property on the left.

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”

Wetland park plan at Seaplane Lagoon gets a boost

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.

Sierra Club in Alameda's 4th of July Parade 2014
Sierra Club in Alameda’s 4th of July Parade 2014

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”

Shoreline grassland, wetland: An opportunity now at Alameda Point

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.

Seaplane Lagoon west side, looking south.  Seaplane Lagoon on left, Alameda Point Channel and SF Bay in background.
Seaplane Lagoon west side, looking south. Seaplane Lagoon on left, Alameda Point Channel and SF Bay in background.  Temporary fence to be removed by end of 2014.

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.

West side of Seaplane Lagoon, looking north.  Seaplane Lagoon on right.  Buildings 29 and 25 on left.  Most of this area could be covered with native grasses with no negative effects on commercial leasing.
West side of Seaplane Lagoon, looking north. Seaplane Lagoon on right. Buildings 29 and 25 on left. Most of this area could be covered with native grasses with no negative effects on commercial leasing.

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.

Information about wetland mitigation banking:

Report To The Legislature – California Wetland Mitigation Banking – Jan. 2012 

U.S. Wetland Banking – Market Features and Rules

Forbes wetland article 4/25/2014 from BCDC

West side of Seaplane Lagoon looking south, with channel and Breakwater Island in background.
West side of Seaplane Lagoon looking south, with channel and Breakwater Island in background.
West side of Seaplane Lagoon, looking northeast from shoreline riprap, with lagoon and hangars in background.
West side of Seaplane Lagoon, looking northeast from shoreline riprap, with lagoon and hangars in background.  Pavement here will serve no commercial purpose under current low-impact guidelines.
Great Blue Heron gathering nesting material on western edge of Seaplane Lagoon for nearby nest.  Increased vegetation will bring more birds along shoreline.
Great Blue Heron gathering nesting material on western edge of Seaplane Lagoon for nearby nest. Increased vegetation will bring more birds along shoreline.
CA Least Terns engaged in courtship ritual of exchanging a fish on jetty adjacent to west side of Seaplane Lagoon - May 2014.
CA Least Terns (center of photo) engaged in courtship ritual of exchanging a fish on jetty adjacent to west side of Seaplane Lagoon – May 2014.
Barn Swallow on fence on west side of Seaplane Lagoon.  Common to the area, often seen flying low over the water looking for flying insects,  nesting almost exclusively on man-made structures, possibly Building 29.
Barn Swallow on fence on west side of Seaplane Lagoon. Common to the area, often seen flying low over the water looking for flying insects, nesting almost exclusively on man-made structures, possibly Building 29.
Breakwater Island viewed from shoreline on west side of Seaplane Lagoon.  Breakwater Island is a roosting site for CA Brown Pelicans and other birds.  Island owned by city of Alameda.
Breakwater Island viewed from shoreline on west side of Seaplane Lagoon. Breakwater Island is a roosting site for CA Brown Pelicans and other birds. Island owned by city of Alameda.
Landscape plan from 2013 showing no buildings on west (left) side of Seaplane Lagoon.  Buildings are now being recommended to stay.  Floating wetlands are a very long-range option if funding is available.
Landscape plan from 2013 showing no buildings on west (left) side of Seaplane Lagoon. Buildings are now being recommended to stay. Floating wetlands are a very long-range option if funding is available.
2014 plans for west side of Seaplane Lagoon show buildings in dashed lines.  Active leasing of buildings currently underway suggests buildings should be in solid lines and wetland in gray.
2014 plans for west side of Seaplane Lagoon show buildings in dashed lines. Active leasing of buildings currently underway suggests buildings should be in solid lines and wetland in gray.
Looking west from west side of Seaplane Lagoon.  Bay/Channel on left.  Building 29 on right.  City property extends beyond fence to far edge of Building 29 property line.
Looking west from west side of Seaplane Lagoon. Bay/Channel on left. Building 29 on right. City property extends beyond fence to far edge of Building 29 property line.
Runway Wetland area on federal property adjacent to Building s 25 and 29 on city property at west side of Seaplane Lagoon.  A naturalized west shoreline of Seaplane Lagoon, with public access, would enhance the greater wildlife habitat in this area.
Runway Wetland area on federal property adjacent to Buildings 25 and 29 on city property at west side of Seaplane Lagoon. A naturalized west shoreline of Seaplane Lagoon, with public access, would enhance the greater wildlife habitat in this area.

Take the plunge!  Remove pavement on the west side of the Seaplane Lagoon and improve our environment.

Gosling ready to plunge onto rocks below, on west side of Seaplane Lagoon, to get to parents in the Alameda Point Channel.
Gosling ready to plunge onto rocks below, on west side of Seaplane Lagoon, to get to parents in the Alameda Point Channel.  It was successful.

Waterfront plan for Seaplane Lagoon sees value in nature

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. 

Seaplane Lagoon green areas (proposed)
From Town Center and Waterfront Precise Plan presentation to Planning Board.
(click on map image to enlarge)

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.”

Seaplane Lagoon western edge
From Town Center and Waterfront Precise Plan presentation to Planning Board.

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.

Eastern jetty of Seaplane Lagoon with Great Blue Herons with nest and landing gull.  Heron is directly above proposed tidal marsh featured on map above.  West shore of Seaplane Lagoon in background.
Great Blue Herons with nest (left) and gulls on eastern jetty of Seaplane Lagoon. Heron is directly above proposed tidal marsh featured on map above. West shore of Seaplane Lagoon in background.
Great Blue Heron standing in shallow Seaplane Lagoon area where tidal marsh is proposed.
Great Blue Heron standing in shallow Seaplane Lagoon area where tidal marsh is proposed.
Sea Lion catching fish in Seaplane Lagoon.  Floating haul out platforms would increase their presence.
Sea Lion catching fish in Seaplane Lagoon. Floating haul out platforms would increase their presence.
Black-crowned Night Heron poking around for food on eastern jetty of Seaplane Lagoon.  One of the regular but seldom seen wildlife visitors.
Black-crowned Night Heron poking around for food on eastern jetty of Seaplane Lagoon. One of the regular but seldom seen wildlife visitors.
Alameda Point Channel in foreground that connects San Francisco Bay to the Seaplane Lagoon.
Alameda Point Channel in foreground that connects San Francisco Bay to the Seaplane Lagoon.

Unless otherwise noted, all photos are copyright Richard Bangert.  Permission requests appreciated before reproducing.  See “About” page for contact info.

Alameda Wildlife Refuge podcast

This interview with wildlife biologist Leora Feeney was done in 2008 as part of the San Francisco Bay Joint Venture’s “Your Wetlands” series.

Click hereor on image below, to access the podcast.

Your Wetlands podcast AWR

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.

Runway Wetland on southeastern corner of refuge.

Navy and VA ignore economics, environment in killing Alameda National Wildlife Refuge

White-tailed kiteOnce upon a time there was talk about a national wildlife refuge at Alameda Point.  It was included in the reuse plan for Naval Air Station (NAS)-Alameda that was accepted by the Department of Defense.  It was added to Alameda’s General Plan.  The US Fish & Wildlife Service was poised to be the owner and caretaker of the refuge.

But after talks broke down between the Navy and US Fish & Wildlife Service nearly a decade ago, the Navy arbitrarily decided to give the land to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for a clinic and columbarium.  The VA is counting on the City of Alameda to give them an additional 70 acres of land early next year so that their clinic can be located further away from the nesting site of the endangered California least terns.  This would bring the VA’s property to roughly 620 acres, even though they need only 110 acres.

The city should impose a condition on this land deal:  Before the city changes its reuse plan footprint to accommodate the VA, the city should insist that the Navy place a conservation easement on the 511 acres that the VA does not need.  A conservation easement would lay the groundwork for creation of a wildlife refuge or wildlife conservation area to be operated by another agency.

Golden Gate Audubon Society 1995 study examines economic value

The benefits of creating a wildlife refuge at Alameda Point go beyond environmental stewardship.  They also include economic benefits to Alameda and the region.  The Golden Gate Audubon Society (GGAS) understood the economic angle back in 1995 when they were advocating for creation of a wildlife refuge.  To provide substance to their views, they commissioned a study by Robert Hrubes and Associates that was released in March of 1995.  It’s called “The Potential Economic Benefits of the Proposed Alameda National Wildlife Refuge:  An Overview.”  The conclusion of the 1995 study—that a wildlife refuge will complement economic development—still holds true today.

2012_Composite_NoFence_Rev1The study went on to extol the intersecting virtues of wildlife habitat protection and economic value.  “While important in their own right, the benefits that would be generated by establishment of the wildlife refuge are not limited to habitat and species protection,” stated Hrubes and Associates.  “[T]here are indeed potential economic benefits that could derive from a wildlife refuge/day-use recreation area located in the central Bay Area. That is, the wildlife refuge proposal is not an ‘either/or’ choice between environmental quality and economic development.  Rather, it constitutes a land use that not only will take optimal advantage of the environmental attributes the site has to offer but also will generate economic activity that benefits the local region. Further, it will enhance the economic value for development of the remainder of the NAS.”

VA’s project requires further study of impacts

VA development area - Version 2The current proposal for the VA to own and control the 511-acre refuge area next to their 110-acre medical clinic and columbarium makes it all but impossible for this area to become the urban wildlife oasis that it could be.  The VA’s proposed project map makes this clear by wiping out the words “Wildlife Refuge” and replacing them with “VA Undeveloped Area.”

At this stage of the environmental review process, the only significant environmental requirement that has been imposed on the VA is that they provide predator management, housekeeping, and record-keeping for the California least terns during their four-and-a-half-month nesting season at Alameda Point from April to mid-August.  This is because the Biological Opinion issued by the US Fish & Wildlife Service in the summer of 2012 focused only on one species – the least tern – due to its listing as an Endangered Species.  It remains to be seen whether the VA and Navy will prepare a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) as typically required for a federal project of this size and scope.  The National Environmental Policy Act provides for an impact report that is similar to California’s Environmental Impact Report.  If the Navy and VA perform an EIS, they will then have to look at impacts to other species (such as the burrowing owl), habitat values, climate and traffic impacts, as well as identify alternative sites for all or part of their project.  

Existing grasslands between runways on wildlife refugeHowever, based on public statements from the VA about their timeline for construction, it does not appear that they have any intention of doing a full EIS, and thus their environmental commitment will be limited.  This will mean that rather than adding grasslands to perimeter areas that already have pockets of grasslands between runways and taxiways in order to divert hawks and other avian predators away from nesting terns, they will keep the refuge looking as much like a fenced-in stadium parking lot as possible (like it has been for the past decade).  The pretext is that it removes habitat for predators, but in this case they would be torturing the concept by making the tern nesting site so conspicuous that it will invite predation.  Virtually all of the least tern predation events have been from flying predators—like the peregrine falcons that come from miles away on the other side of Alameda.

Runway'taxiway area of wildlife refugeThe real reasons for maintaining the industrial look are to reduce maintenance and capital costs, and to exploit the paved areas for revenue-generating uses that don’t require construction.  They have already said they will use the area for emergency preparedness training, disaster staging, and storage of supplies.

Over 180 different species of bird have been spotted on the refuge at one time or another.  Some of the wetland area can easily be expanded and linked permanently to the Bay.  Grasslands could be added.  Instead, what we can expect to see added are auto driving events and RV shows.

Early in 2013, the Alameda city council will play a pivotal role on whether the VA is able to permanently kill the wildlife refuge vision.  The city council must vote on an amendment to its no-cost conveyance deal with the Navy in order to allow the VA project to move forward.  By their action, the city will decide whether the 1996 Community Reuse Plan for Alameda Point will be amended to remove the wildlife refuge as a goal, or if it remains.

Killing the wildlife refuge is not only a bad idea for the environment.  It’s a bad idea for the economy.

Read more in the Conservation Action section of the Alameda Point Environmental Report.

Soil cleanup planned at runway workshops area

Future recreational open space

The 4.18-acre cleanup Site 34 in the old runway area next to the Oakland estuary looks barren from a distance.  But up close there are concrete slabs and pavement, reminders of its bygone days as a bustling workshop area.

This area was once part of the division known as the Naval Air Rework Facility (NARF).  Everything from sandblasting and painting, to metal working, woodworking, and scaffold maintenance went on out there. More than 40 years of activity left soil around buildings contaminated with lead, arsenic, pesticides, PCBs, and aircraft and diesel fuel.  Above ground fuel storage tanks and electrical transformers contributed to the contamination.

The Navy will clean up the soil in this area next year.  Their draft work plan, which will be released on July 31, was discussed during a Navy presentation at the July 2012 Restoration Advisory Board (RAB) meeting. 

Site 34 aerial view. Old fuel dock to left of site. Runway at bottom is part of area where antiques faire is held.  Navy photo/graphic.

Based on more than 200 soil samples taken in prior years and this year, the contractor created the draft work plan.  Separate groundwater samples indicate contamination from the solvent trichloroethane. No remedial action is being taken on the trichloroethane, however, because 1) vapor intrusion into residences is not a factor, as this land will become Public Trust Land on which housing is not permitted; and 2) water monitoring has shown that the chemical is not migrating toward the estuary.

The northern edge of this site is part of the early westward land extension of Alameda, which allowed trains carrying freight and passengers to get out to a point where the water was deep enough for ferry connections.  More fill was later added to the area.  According to the Navy’s Remedial Investigation report, “In the 1920s, most of IR Site 34 was filled with estuary dredging material during construction of the Posey Tube.” 

Site 34 starts at concrete slab on far side of tree. Port of Oakland on right.  In late 1800s and early 1900s, trains travelled on tracks along the estuary where tree and slab are.

By the time the closure of the Navy base was announced in 1993, this workshop area had 12 buildings, 7 aboveground storage tanks, 2 “generator accumulation points” (waste storage), 15 transformers, and over 7,000 feet of aviation fuel line.  Between 1996 and 2000 everything except the concrete pads and pavement was removed. 

Building demolitions ended shortly after Alameda Point became a Superfund site in July 1999.  The Superfund program, officially called the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), does not allow for land improvements such as building demolition.

Most of the soil cleanup locations are adjacent to the exterior edges of old building slabs. Much of the lead in the soil came from sandblasting lead-based paint.  Other contamination came from lubricants used for metals fabrications, and the use of oils and solvents for woodwork and metal work.  In addition to removing soil next to the slabs, the contractor will dig under the slabs at the hot spots to take what is called a sidewall sample to confirm that all contaminated soil is removed.  They have to keep digging as long as contamination is found. Clean soil will be brought in to the areas where soil is removed.

A strip of coastal marshland running along the Oakland Estuary on the north end of the site has no contamination.  Its habitat quality, however, is marred by discarded concrete, wood, and trash.  It will be up to the city to initiate wetlands restoration efforts there.

Coastal marsh on Oakland estuary at Alameda Point Site 34. Port of Oakland on left. Old runway area on right. Looking east toward Alameda Main Ferry Terminal.

A 60-day public comment period on the work plan begins when it’s released on July 31.  The work plan will be finalized in January 2013.  Fieldwork is anticipated to take place January through April 2013.

Site 34, located in the Northwest Territories, is expected to be given to the City of Alameda in 2014.

Click here > Site 34 RAB Presentation  for more details.

Announcing the new reference tab at the very top of this blog called “Cleanup document libraries.”