Volunteers at the Alameda Point nesting site of the endangered California Least Tern continued their efforts this fall after a successful 2014 nesting season.
The Alameda Point colony produced over 350 least tern fledglings this year, and a record number of the nests had three eggs, as opposed to the usual two. The 45 nests with three eggs may be due to in part to better than normal availability of small fish in nearby waters. The terns arrive at the airfield site in early April. By mid-August the terns have headed south to Mexico and Central America.
Alameda’s nesting colony of endangered California Least Terns has a new government landlord – and a secure home for the future. After years of negotiations, the U.S. Navy transferred 624 acres of its former airfield at Alameda Point to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on Monday, November 3.
The transfer includes the former airstrip that was adopted by Least Terns for nesting in the 1970s and that has become the most productive breeding site in California for that species. More than 500 acres – including the area used by the terns – will be preserved as a wildlife reserve.Continue reading “Endangered Alameda least terns get a secure home”
“Demilitarized Landscapes” is a nine-minute film about three San Francisco Bay Area communities in which the military has played a major role: San Francisco’s Bayview Hunters Point, Alameda Point, and the Richmond waterfront. The film was featured in a special exhibition called “Above and Below: Stories From Our Changing Bay” at the Oakland Museum of California. The exhibition, which ran from August 31, 2013 to February 23, 2014, explored the impacts of humans and natural forces on San Francisco Bay over the last 6,000 years.
The film played continuously in a special display area titled “Military Landscapes – Demilitarized Landscapes” and shows the transitions being made today. The Alameda Point segment focuses on the Nature Reserve and the recovery effort for the endangered California Least Tern.
The Seaplane Lagoon’s north side will be looking like its old self in a few months. The Navy has begun dismantling the waterproof concrete-walled containment system that was used for three years for dewatering and testing of soil dredged from the Seaplane Lagoon, marking a major cleanup milestone. Prior to that dredging work, much of the lagoon’s north frontage served as a staging area for replacement of storm drain lines contaminated with radium-226.
Construction of a new and improved soil cover over a waste disposal site concluded this spring, marking another milestone. The 110-acre site on the southwest corner of Alameda Point took 10 years of haggling about potential environmental impacts before a cleanup plan was adopted in 2010. Work began in early 2013. The dome-shaped soil cover required 500,000 cubic yards of barged-in soil to complete.
At the far northwestern corner of the Point, work is about to begin on another long studied and analyzed waste disposal site. In a few months, the Navy will be installing an interlocking steel retaining wall along 200 yards of the Bay shoreline to contain contaminated burned waste material that was bulldozed into the Bay more than a half century ago. Water dye tests showed no toxics are leaching into the Bay, but members of the Restoration Advisory Board (RAB) questioned whether the barrier would withstand a catastrophic earthquake. Partially covered by runway pavement, the entire 30-acre site will receive a three-foot soil cover. The work is expected to be completed in 2015. The area will be available for passive recreational use such as hiking trails when the city receives the land.
One of the longest-running and most problematic cleanup sites is at the old Naval Air Rework Facility (NARF), also known as Building 5, covering nearly one million square feet. Radium paint used for aircraft dial painting, and chemicals associated with engine repair work led to contamination that is still being remediated. The entire floor area will be scanned again for radiation in 2015, following up on at least three prior scanning surveys of walls, ceilings, pipes, and ducts. The year 2015 will also see the Navy returning to the site for a final round of groundwater cleanup treatments targeting contamination remaining after an intensive cleanup effort a decade ago.
Next door to the Bladium Sports Club on West Tower Avenue, another previously treated groundwater cleanup site will be treated again. Workers have already begun boring holes in the pavement for a network of hoses that will be used for introducing contaminant-eating bacteria into groundwater along with a bacteria food source.
On Saturday, July 12, the Navy’s annual cleanup site tour visited four of the cleanup areas. The most impressive stop was the 110-acre landfill site mentioned above. For the first time in over 15 years, members of the public were allowed to walk around and enjoy the magnificent views from the embankment that is closer to San Francisco than to city hall. The fencing is all gone, and with it the radiological warning signs. The Navy replaced an aging metal culvert that connects the site’s North Pond to San Francisco Bay with a concrete culvert.
Tour participants were able to see the area’s expanded wetland with a new tiny island. Caspian Terns started nesting on the island a few months ago, another type of milestone. “The last time Caspian Terns were seen in that area nesting was in 1999 when only one nest was detected,” said Alameda wildlife biologist and Alameda Point bird surveyor Leora Feeney. The 79-acre soil cover on the landfill will be seeded with flowering native grasses later this year. The vegetation mix was chosen by the RAB.
According to the Navy’s environmental cleanup coordinator, Derek Robinson, $513 million has been appropriated to date for Alameda Point cleanup, although some of it remains to be spent on upcoming work. His office, the Base Realignment and Closure Program, estimates another $80 million will be needed by the time remaining projects and follow-up monitoring are completed.
Later this year, the Navy is expected to transfer to the city the 33-acre North Housing site and seven-acre former Island High School site that sit next to Alameda Landing and Estuary Park, marking another milestone on the long and winding cleanup road to civilian use.
Update notes: Subsequent criticism of the Navy as to the necessity of a security fence by members of the public and regulatory agencies led to the removal of the security fence from the final work plan design. The Navy also agreed to shorten the soil gas vents to two feet, since only trace amounts of methane gas are now emitted from the landfill waste, most of which is industrial and did not produce methane in the first place. Additionally, the Navy agreed to examine the aging metal culvert that connects the North Pond of the West Wetland to San Francisco Bay. The culvert provides the water lifeline for the North Pond habitat and was at risk of collapse and being stopped up with debris. The Navy replaced the metal culvert with a concrete culvert (see photo above) and debris screen.
The 9.7-acre nesting area for the endangered California least terns at Alameda Point received a new layer of sand this year. Sixty dump truck loads of sand were delivered to the site on the old Navy airfield in March, paid for by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS).
After the sand was moved into place, USFWS and volunteers set up a numbered cinderblock grid system used for recording behavior and also distributed chick shelters and oyster shells for the chicks to use as protection from the elements and predators.
On Sunday, April 13 a dozen volunteers showed up for the last work party prior to nesting. The task of the day was distributing oyster shells around the site, which provide a nominal amount of sun protection for chicks and, in theory, helps make it more difficult for avian predators like red-tailed hawks and peregrine falcons to spot the chicks amongst all the white shells.
From now until the end of the nesting season in mid-August, volunteers will be participating in another program called the Tern Watch Program. Participants monitor behavior and watch for predators from their vehicles outside the nesting area.
Throughout the nesting season a USFWS biologist makes periodic walks through the site and places numbered plaster markers next to nests so that the number of eggs and success rates can be accurately recorded. If there are three eggs in a nest one week, for example, and one egg the next week with no chicks, it’s an indication that predators have grabbed the eggs.
Each year following the end of the nesting season in August, volunteers at monthly work parties gather up the oyster shells, the wooden A-frames, drain tiles, grid markers, and the hundreds of numbered markers used to identify nests. Clearing the site makes it easier to remove weeds and grade the sand, which can erode during rains. The volunteers pull weeds from inside and around the perimeter of the fenced-in site. The volunteer program during the non-nesting season is organized by the Golden Gate Audubon Society’s Friends of the Alameda Wildlife Reserve committee, in conjunction with the USFWS biologist in charge of the Alameda Point tern colony.
The effort to protect the least terns was begun by the Navy when nesting activities were first noticed in the 1980s. The likely reason for the terns choosing such an unlikely place to nest was the absence of people who might trample on the nests. The nesting site was chosen by the terns, not by the Navy or USFWS, and has been expanded to its current size as the colony expanded. The sandy substrate that approximates the traditional beach nesting habitat for terns is on top of old airfield pavement. Due to erosion caused by wind and rain, the sand has to be periodically replaced, as it was in 2009 and 2011.
Training sessions for this year’s Tern Watch Program will be held at the USFWS office at Alameda Point on April 26, April 30, May 28, and May 31. Volunteers do not have to be a bird expert, just be very interested in observing and reporting about them. Participants are required to attend one training session and commit to signing up for a minimum of three of the 3-hour shifts. Also required are binoculars, cell phone, and personal vehicle. Reservations for the training sessions can be made by calling Susan Euing at 510 521-9717 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Directions and registration materials will be sent by email.
The annual Return of the Terns bus tour to the nesting area will be held on June 14 this year. The tour departs from the Crab Cove Visitor Center in Alameda. Registration required through the East Bay Regional Park District’s website or at the visitor center.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Navy jointly issued their final Environmental Assessment on November 18, 2013 for the VA’s proposed Alameda Point outpatient clinic, offices, and columbarium cemetery. The report found that the 112-acre project on the northern part of the former Naval Air Station airfield would cause no significant impacts to the environment. The environmental review culminates years of debate over the project’s potential impacts on the endangered California Least Terns that nest on the nearby runway, and paves the way for the Navy to transfer 624 acres of the airfield to the VA in 2014.
The VA began looking at the Alameda site in 2004 for expansion and consolidation of services from undersized and scattered facilities, which are currently leased by the VA until 2018. More than 9,000 veterans are enrolled in clinical services in the Oakland/Alameda area, with patient visits up 50% in the last five years. Approximately 543 veterans will be seen at the Alameda Point outpatient clinic each weekday and 70 on Saturday and Sunday. The VA anticipates employing a staff of 250, including 26 physicians and 34 nurses.
The VA will also establish a new national cemetery at Alameda Point. The two closest national cemeteries in San Bruno and San Francisco’s Presidio no longer accept new interments. Currently the closest burial options for Bay Area veterans are San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery in Santa Nella and Sacramento Valley National Cemetery in Dixon. The new columbarium cemetery will initially be 20 acres, with the remaining 60 acres built out in increments until completion in 2116. Approximately six services will take place Monday through Friday.
Traffic and Transportation
The VA and Navy evaluated seven intersections in Oakland and four in Alameda, as well as the Posey/Webster Tube and segments of I-880, for traffic impacts. The report noted that two Oakland intersections and the Atlantic/Webster intersection would be performing at unacceptable levels regardless of the VA project because of other Alameda Point development. The assessment states, “The minimal additional traffic resulting from the Proposed Action would not, cumulatively, make the already unacceptable intersections significantly worse.”
The VA plans to operate a 24-person shuttle bus service between Alameda Point and the 12th Street Oakland City Center BART station every half hour, seven days a week. Extending AC Transit bus line 31 to the clinic would provide additional service if the transit agency decides to add service.
Several acres of seasonal wetland will be impacted by the VA’s project and will need mitigation, either through on-site replacement or paying into a wetland mitigation bank. The VA has not reached agreement yet with the Regional Water Quality Control Board and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on a mitigation plan. However, the VA has stated that their preference is to “enhance and expand existing conditions” at the Runway Wetland on the southeast corner of the runway area. Plans will be finalized before issuance of any permits for the VA’s project.
Nature Reserve, Least Tern Management
Most of the VA’s runway area will remain undeveloped. Initial plans allowed for periodic emergency preparedness training on the undeveloped area. The new plans allow training exercises only in the VA’s developed area about every 14 months between mid-August and April 1 when the terns are gone.
The influence of years of lobbying by the Golden Gate Audubon Society and open space advocates for wildlife stewardship in the undeveloped area is reflected in the VA’s final report. The VA states, “The remainder of the 512 acres of the Transfer Parcel will remain as a preserve for the California Least Tern or open space, with no plan for development, and will be available to wildlife for future generations.”
The VA will construct a 2,500-square-foot Conservation Management Office (CMO) near the entrance to their property. The CMO will provide office space for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, meeting space for educational programs and volunteers, and public restrooms. The VA will fund the management of the Least Tern colony and the undeveloped area.
The winglike roof lines on the CMO and the main clinic/office building were inspired by the Least Tern colony and the site’s history as part of the Alameda Naval Air Station.
As part of their project, the VA will construct a pedestrian/bicycle/vehicle roadway along the northern border of their property all the way to a public viewpoint on the western shoreline. The roadway will include power, water, and sewer utilities that will be available for the city or a region-serving public park operator on the Northwest Territories to make connections to. The city will be granted a shoreline easement for constructing the Bay Trail. The VA will also be constructing a new north entryway to Alameda Point and laying oversized infrastructure, which the city can use, along Redline Avenue out to their site.
The VA plans to bring in over 400,000 cubic yards of clean fill material to raise the elevation of their site by as much as three feet, bringing the highest elevation to 13.5 feet above Mean Sea Level. Plans are based on a 2009 Bay Conservation and Development Commission sea level rise prediction of 16 inches by 2050 and 55 inches by 2099. The 18-month construction project is expected to begin by 2016 and be completed in 2017.
The VA is made up of three administrations: Veterans Health Administration, Veterans Benefits Administration, and National Cemetery Administration. All three will have offices at the Alameda Point VA.
The complete Environmental Assessment is on theVA website. A 30-day final public comment period began on November 18, 2013.
Landscaping of the 100-acre landfill area on the southwest corner of Alameda Point is nearing completion. The seeding of the landfill site with flowering native grasses is almost ready to begin. Contouring of the site is complete. Stabilization of the shoulder around the wetland area is complete. Placement of the final soil cover is underway.
The contouring of this industrial landfill site was completed on August 16, 2013. Approximately one-third of the contouring, or base layer, soil is clean soil recycled from Seaplane Lagoon dredging. The recycled soil stock was quickly exhausted, along with soil recycled after removing some of the berms and high areas. More than half of the base layer – 193,000 cubic yards – is soil barged in from Decker Island in the Sacramento River.
This contouring phase, which began in January of 2013, created the base layer with a specially-engineered slope. It was then scanned for radiation using scanners towed by a small vehicle, even though the site had been surveyed for radiation prior to placing the base layer.
Placement of the plastic biobarrier (see photo below) and the final soil cover using soil barged in from Decker Island began on August 19, 2013. The biobarrier is a plastic mesh that is designed to discourage burrowing animals from coming into contact with the waste area. The biobarrier installation is over 90% complete as of week #38 (October 24, 2013). The final two-foot soil cover is over 60% complete. The final soil cover includes six inches of soil amended to promote growth of vegetation.
The soil stabilization and drainage work on the shoulder around the wetland area is also completed. It includes native rye grass seeding, a jute mesh cover, and a silt fence. Some of the rye grass has already started to sprout.
New monitoring wells will be installed starting in late November.
Hydroseeding of the site with an assortment of California native grasses will begin in late November or early December.
In 2014 the old culvert connecting the north side of the wetland with San Francisco Bay will be replaced with a new culvert.
Fifty tons of old fence and metal have been recycled. The temporary work fence will be removed at the end of the job. The methane gas vents will be short and virtually unnoticeable (see photo below). Due to the age of the landfill and the fact that very little organic waste was deposited there, the methane gas produced is minor and will not require the 10-foot tall vent stacks proposed in an earlier workplan.
This site, along with adjacent land, will be transferred to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in late 2013 or early 2014.
Source: The information in this update was gathered from the weekly progress reports for Installation Restoration Site 2 Remedial Action at Alameda Point. The progress reports are posted on the Envirostor website maintained by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC). The source for all photos in this update, unless otherwise credited, is DTSC.