Harbor seal numbers spike during herring spawning

Alameda Point’s harbor seal population fluctuates between single digits and 50 during most of the year on the specially-built harbor seal float.  But when the Pacific herring arrive in the winter to lay their eggs, many more seals arrive to feast on the herring, causing a sudden spike.  Last winter, a spike in seal numbers to a record 70 came on January 5, 2017, in the midst of the herring run.  This winter, the herring arrived sooner, in December, and so did more harbor seals, causing a spike to a new record of 73 on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

In the brief time span since the new harbor seal float was set in place, local monitors have assumed that it was simply the colder water temperatures that enticed greater numbers of seals to use the float in the winter.  But in fact, they discovered it’s not the full story.

It turns out that dropping water temperature indeed has an effect, but the effect is on the herring.  Ideal water temperature for herring spawning is between 50 and 53.6 degrees Fahrenheit.  The water temperature at Alameda Point dropped below 54 degrees the afternoon of December 16 and continued dropping another 2.3 degrees, according to data collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  This brought on the herring run and, in turn, the voracious seals.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration graph of water temperatures at Alameda Point between December 15, 2017, and January 5, 2018, with harbor seal graph added by Alameda Point Harbor Seal Monitors. Click on image to enlarge.

Continue reading “Harbor seal numbers spike during herring spawning”

Nuclear research coming to Alameda Point historic district

Tenant plans to design next-generation nuclear power plant

The underground infrastructure at Alameda Point may be old and in need of replacement, but many of the Navy’s industrial and civic buildings were built to last centuries.  One of those buildings is Building 9, a former records warehouse on West Tower Avenue right across the street from the Bladium that is rock solid and worth rehabbing.

According to developer Joe Ernst of srmErnst, the horizontal alignment of the steel superstructure has moved a mere 1.2 inches in the 77 years since it was built.  “And for all we know, it could have been off by an inch when it was built,” said Ernst.

Building 9 at 707 West Tower Avenue undergoing $24 million renovation project.

The hangar-like structure is being readied for the first tenant, Kairos Power.  Kairos will set up a laboratory to test components that will make up a new type of nuclear reactor.  No radioactive material will be handled there.  In fact, Ernst says it’s spelled out in the deed.

Continue reading “Nuclear research coming to Alameda Point historic district”

Housing limit under review

Part of the vacant military housing near Alameda Landing, formerly known as North Housing, fetched a winning auction bid of $38 million.

In order to complete the sale, the current “government” zoning designation must be removed.  At the same time, the city recommends removing the government zoning from two adjacent parcels that will soon be transferred to the Alameda Housing Authority and Habitat for Humanity.  The residential, multifamily zoning will remain intact. Continue reading “Housing limit under review”

Radium-226 paint use left widespread cleanup legacy

Work ends at Building 5 where painting began

The Navy has completed the final round of inspections and cleanup of the last traces of the radioactive metal called radium-226 in Building 5 at Alameda Point.  The aircraft hangar complex is where the Navy refurbished its planes, including repainting tiny instrument dials, switches, and markers with glow-in-the-dark paint that contained radium.

Radium is a naturally-occurring element found in miniscule amounts in soil and water posing no health risk.  Its risk comes from ingesting the element regularly, such as in industrial settings.

The procedures for handling and disposing of the paint waste during the 1950s and 1960s led to costly and seemingly interminable cleanup projects once the base closed in 1997.  This affected at least five other areas at Alameda Point. Continue reading “Radium-226 paint use left widespread cleanup legacy”

Regional park district and city negotiate land deal for park

On July 28, representatives of the city and the East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD), along with members of the public, toured the future site of a regional park on the former Navy runway area at Alameda Point.  The 158-acre area runs along the Oakland Estuary out to the western shoreline with its sweeping views of San Francisco Bay out to the Golden Gate Bridge.

View from the proposed regional park on May 11, 2017, during Restoration Advisory Board tour.

Bob Nisbet, assistant general manager of EBRPD, and Jennifer Ott, base reuse manager for the city, explained that the city and park district are working on a joint agreement called a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that will allow EBRPD to build and operate the park.  The land is being transferred from the Navy to the city in phases as environmental remediation is completed.  Following the final land transfer in about four years, the city would then lease the land to EBRPD for 66 years, the maximum allowable under state law for tidelands along state waterways. Continue reading “Regional park district and city negotiate land deal for park”

VA wetland study censored

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. 

“(b)5” is Exemption 5 in the Freedom of Information Act.

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.”

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New ferry to begin service

~More bike space, faster boarding, quieter ride, lower emissions

Ferry riders at the Alameda Main Street Terminal will soon be boarding the MV Hydrus, the cleanest running 400 passenger ferry in the world.  The state-of-the-art ferry is designed for quicker on-boarding and off-boarding, faster speeds, low noise and vibration, and low emissions.  The bicycle storage capacity will be more than doubled to 50 from the current capacity of 20 on the MV Encinal, which it will replace.

Captain Al Lewis and the Hydrus crew were running through training exercises in the Oakland Estuary on March 28.  They stopped at the Main Street Terminal just after the Encinal departed with passengers.  The Encinal was built in 1985 and was owned by the City of Alameda during the period when the city operated the ferry service to San Francisco.  At 27 meters in length, the Encinal looked small by comparison to the 41-foot-long Hydrus.

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