The Nesting Ospreys of Alameda Point – with video

The spring of 2011 saw the return to Alameda Point of a nesting pair of ospreys.  This pair set up their nest on the same light stand at the entrance to the Seaplane Lagoon as another osprey pair, or perhaps the same pair, had done in 2009.  Unlike 2009, this year the area is fenced off for cleanup work, making it difficult to get good photographs.

Remarkable in flight

It was a pleasure to watch the adults change shifts on the eggs and go off to catch fish.  Although they may sometimes prey on small ground dwelling animals, their diet is normally restricted to fish.  Often they could be seen heading north across the Seaplane Lagoon just inches above the water attempting to grab a fish.  What was remarkable to witness was their flying technique.  The osprey that I watched one evening was propelling itself just inches above the water for a few hundred feet, skimming the surface with its unique opposing claws ready to clutch a fish.  Up would go the wings to almost full vertical, and then come down in an arcing motion, cupping the air and thrusting it forward.

osprey hunting for fish
osprey with fish

When they returned with a small fish, they would usually perch on either the tip of an old metal post next to the nest or further west on the breakwater on a post with a horizontal arm.  After having their fill, they would share with their mate.

Unfortunately, vacation plans interrupted my photography before the chicks hatched and fledged.

While the osprey is not an endangered species, it is certainly an environmental asset and a beautiful creature to watch – so much so that many communities throughout the U.S. build perches around lakes and bays to attract ospreys during the nesting season.

Alameda should preserve nesting sites

Alameda should emulate these efforts and adopt a policy of not only permanently preserving the old light beacon stand that was used this year; we should also refurbish the other one on the east breakwater that is tipped over and hanging on by a chain.

We should make provisions for when the cleanup fencing is removed.  Perhaps a small fence at the entrance to the west breakwater to prevent deliberate or uninformed intrusions into the “nesting space.”  We could have organized viewing programs during nesting season.  One way to generate interest in the ospreys would be to install video cameras in some new poles next to each nesting platform.  A pole with a horizontal perch would be more useful to the osprey and a good way to have one camera facing into the nest and another one facing out toward the lagoon with streaming video.

To place the protection of osprey nesting sites in perspective, it is instructive to know that if the light stand used for nesting were a tree in a logging area of California, it would be illegal to cut it down.  Nesting sites are protected in our forests, and they should be protected here.  Without a proactive effort now, I fear that one day we will find that the old historic light stands have been thrown away.

The open space and wildlife resources that we have at Alameda Point are priceless.  We should make an effort to preserve them, especially when we have visitors like the ospreys.  

Click here > osprey slideshow on Flickr for more images 

     

        

Seaplane Lagoon Dredging Update

Radioactive radium waste not an issue  The massive pile of dredge mud that has been sitting between the Seaplane Lagoon and the hangars is now dry enough to be tested to determine the exact contaminant profile and hauled away. 

dredge soil awaiting testing and hauling away

The contaminant of greatest concern to community has been radium-226, the radioactive ingredient once used to make aircraft dials glow in the dark.  Testing revealed that the sediment did not contain elevated radium levels and therefore would not need to be disposed of at a special radioactive waste site.  There were several solid objects, referred to as “buttons,” that were found which contained elevated radium.  Those objects and the surrounding soil were removed for special disposal.

The piles of dredge soil neatly arranged and numbered next to the old Control Tower are waiting to be hauled away to a hazardous waste disposal site. 

Wildlife Refuge Truck Route

In addition to trucking dredge soil to a hazardous waste site, there is a large mound of asphalt that is being trucked onto the wildlife refuge and out to an area where clean soil and fill material is being stored for future use.  This asphalt is from a temporary pad that the Navy laid down in the dredge soil dewatering area.  It was covered with plastic and not contaminated, and now it is no longer needed.

PCB hotspot 

Early this year the Navy began its dredging project to remove contaminated sediment from the northeast and northwest corners of the Seaplane Lagoon. The Seaplane Lagoon ranked as one of the worst PCB sites in the Bay Area according to a regional Water Board study.  Continue reading “Seaplane Lagoon Dredging Update”

Navy Announces Cleanup Plans – Public Meeting August 31, 2011

OU-2A cleanup area - Seaplane Lagoon and USS Hornet are to the left - numbered areas are individual site #s

After years of investigation, the Navy, along with the federal and state regulators, has come up with a remediation plan for 39 acres, encompassing five sites, called Operating Unit 2A. On Wednesday, August 31, the Navy will spell out its plan for remediation and solicit comments.  The meeting will be at City Hall West at Alameda Point, 950 West Mall Square, Room 201 from 6:30 pm to 8:00 pm.

Operating Unit 2A is roughly one block away from the soccer fields on the south side of Alameda Point and one block away from the USS Hornet.  The Unit has contamination issues that date back to 1879 when the Pacific Coast Oil Works Company began operating an oil refinery near Main Street.

The main two highlights up for discussion are:

Building 410

Building 410 is where the Navy operated an aircraft paint stripping facility.  The soil was found to be clean, but toxic chemicals seeped into the groundwater.  The conclusion reached by the Navy and regulators is that no active remediation efforts need to be conducted.  Instead, they will rely on “natural attenuation,” which means to let nature take its course through dilution, dispersion, and biodegradation of the contaminants.

Building 410 - former paint stripping building

Their rationale for not undertaking a vigorous program to clean the groundwater to drinking water safety levels is that no one will ever be using it for drinking water, especially because of high salt content.  No wells are permitted and, even if a well was desired for drinking water, there is pure water at the much deeper 100-foot depth.  They also claim that vapors will not intrude into structures because it is in the second water-bearing zone and, therefore, the water zone above will act as a barrier. Continue reading “Navy Announces Cleanup Plans – Public Meeting August 31, 2011”

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”

Environmental Cleanup – Seaplane Lagoon; RAB Tour; Lead; Groundwater

Sun sets on dredging project for this year - to resume in 2012. Fence is down on east side of lagoon, which will allow sunset viewing and bird watching throughout the remainder of the year.

Seaplane Lagoon dredging contractor fails to meet deadline

Seaplane Lagoon dredging barge is gone, not having completed the job on time.

The Navy was expecting the contractor to complete the dredging of both the northeast corner and the northwest corner of the Seaplane Lagoon by mid-April prior to the arrival of the endangered California Least Terns.  The terns nest on the Wildlife Refuge and feed in the Seaplane Lagoon and nearby waters.  It is illegal to disturb them while feeding and nesting.  The contractor completed the northeast corner, but work was halted before starting on the northwest corner due to the arrival of the Least Terns. 

The dredging will resume in early 2012 and be completed by mid-year.  It is unclear at this point whether the Navy will incur an additional expense for the dredging operation, since it was not completed by the deadline, and the dredging equipment had to be demobilized.   

In response to a question about whether the Seaplane Lagoon dredging contractor is expected to complete the project within the budget allocated for this project, the Navy’s Environmental Coordinator for Alameda Point, Derek Robinson, said, “The Navy is optimistic the project will be completed within the allocated budget.  The Navy and its current contractor are presently negotiating a change to scope to allow the future dredging of the northwest corner of the Seaplane Lagoon to be performed under a new contract.”  In response to a question about whether the demobilization of the dredging operation until 2012 is going to lead to a cost overrun, or will the contractor absorb the cost, Derek Robinson reiterated the above statement and went on to say, “Until the negotiations with the current contractor are complete and the new project is awarded, the total project cost will not be known.”

The existing piles of dredge soil on the tarmac near the Air Museum and Bladium will be hauled away this summer.  They will be tested for radium-226 and other contaminants in order to determine where they will be disposed of.  The fencing along the eastern side of the lagoon has been removed, and the dredging barge is gone.

Installing steel sheet pilings in lagoon prior to removing drain pipe, soil, and concrete

 A separate project on the western side of the lagoon is continuing.  It involves removing the last leg of the old sewer drain line that was removed due to radium-226 contamination.  A steel barrier has been constructed in the lagoon to prevent contaminants from entering the water during the project.

Lead in soil

Work has begun next to the Collaborative housing to remove lead contaminated soil.  Sidewalk sections have been removed and the area fenced off.  Continue reading “Environmental Cleanup – Seaplane Lagoon; RAB Tour; Lead; Groundwater”

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?”