Massive landscaping project changing scenic area on Nature Reserve

On August 3, 2013, the Navy’s annual environmental cleanup tour visited the worksite known as Site 2 on the southwest corner of Alameda Point.  Work has been underway at the site since early this year, constructing a 79-acre soil cover atop the old waste disposal area.  Due to budget cutbacks this year, only the Restoration Advisory Board was taken on the tour.

Transition from soil cover to wetland.  Port of Oakland in background.
Transition from soil cover to wetland. Port of Oakland in background.

The site was closed for waste disposal in the mid-1980s and given a soil cover that did not meet landfill closure standards.  For more than a decade after it was added to the Superfund cleanup program, the regulatory agencies and the Navy went back and forth about how best to close the site in an environmentally safe manner.

The slope of the soil cover is so important to the engineering design that the blades on the graders are not even controlled by the driver.  Blades on the graders, and even the bulldozer, are controlled by an onboard computer that uses a GPS satellite to maintain a uniform elevation.  The engineering concept for this soil cover is to minimize the slope so as to minimize movement in an earthquake, while at the same time providing for drainage.

Looking east at partially completed soil cover from the western shoreline of Alameda Point.
Looking east at partially completed soil cover from the western shoreline of Alameda Point.

Soon the contractor will be laying down a 200-mil-thick HDPE geonetting material to act as a barrier to burrowing animals.  Next, they will add two more feet of soil before installing monitoring equipment, drainage features, access road, and seeding the soil with a variety of California native grasses.  Seeding is planned for this fall before the rainy season.

The 30-acre wetland area is not contaminated, but it will receive some upgrades with additional wetland.  There is both a freshwater wetland area fed by rainwater, and a saltwater wetland area connected to San Francisco Bay via an underground culvert.  The culvert will be replaced due to its age.

Partial view of wetland on southwest corner of Alameda Point.       Maritime ships and USS Hornet in background.
Partial view of wetland and soil cover on southwest corner of Alameda Point. Looking east with maritime ships in background.

More than 600,000 cubic yards of soil is required to complete the project.  Of that amount, 110,000 cubic yards have been recycled from the Seaplane Lagoon dredging after it tested clean.  The rest is being barged in from Decker Island in the Sacramento River near the town of Rio Vista.

Soil from Decker Island being off loaded from barge at southwest corner of Alameda Point.
Soil from Decker Island being off loaded from barge at southwest corner of Alameda Point.

This 110-acre project site, featuring the most scenic viewpoint in all of Alameda, will be transferred to the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) along with another 400 acres of the Nature Reserve, and 112 acres for the VA’s clinic and columbarium.  A nearby public access area on the western shoreline will be developed when the VA completes their road along the northern perimeter of the columbarium to the western shore.  The Bay Trail will eventually run along the shoreline.

Partial view of wetland area on Site 2 - Alameda Point Nature Reserve.
Partial view of wetland area on Site 2 – Alameda Point Nature Reserve. Bay Trail will be on the other side of the embankment that runs along the far side of wetland area.
Showing wetland on the left that was added and will be allowed to naturally revegetate.  Wetland on the left connected to San Francisco Bay.  Freshwater wetland is to the right.  Looking east toward hangars.
Wetland on the left connected to San Francisco Bay. The muddy part in the photo was recently added and will be allowed to naturally revegetate. Freshwater wetland to the right. Looking east toward hangars.
North Pond wetland connected to San Francisco Bay.  Port of Oakland in background.
North Pond wetland connected to San Francisco Bay. Port of Oakland in background.
Wetland area on Site 2 looking north from southern perimeter of the site.
Wetland area on Site 2 looking north from southern perimeter of the site.
Off loading soil from barge for Site 2 soil cover at Alameda Point.  Southern shoreline.
Off loading soil from barge for Site 2 soil cover at Alameda Point. Southern shoreline.
Construction equipment at Site 2.  Looking east with maritime ships in background.
Construction equipment at Site 2. Looking east with maritime ships in background.
VA project at Alameda Point with adjacent Nature Reserve that includes Site 2 remediation area.
VA project at Alameda Point with adjacent Nature Reserve that includes Site 2 remediation area. 

Google map showing Site 2 is here.

For more background, see previous story “Landscaping the Navy’s underground waste disposal site.”

Volunteers maintain tern nesting area at Alameda Point Nature Reserve

The endangered least terns have returned.  Committed volunteers prepare and maintain this unique site during the non-nesting season.  The public can see the fruits of their work on June 15.

2013 maintenance work began on January 13th by clearing weeds from the outer perimeter of the nesting area.  The terns need a clear view of their surroundings to feel comfortable that predators are not lurking nearby.  Trimming vegetation near the nesting area is a high priority on work party checklists.

January work party
January work party

Volunteers were at the site again in February, March, and early April prior to the terns’ mid-April arrival.  Tasks included replacing deteriorated plastic mesh along the base of the fence around the nesting site.  The plastic mesh keeps chicks from wandering out through openings in the chain link fence.  The chain link fence is there to keep out predators, and to keep out rabbits that might easily trample eggs.

Replacing black mesh "chick fence."
Replacing black mesh “chick fence.”

Another of set of tasks involves randomly placing wooden A-frames and half-round clay tiles that serve as shelters for the chicks from predators like hawks.  One of the senior volunteers has been working to help the terns since the base closed.  This year he brought 48 wooden chick shelters that he made at his home.  Another task is the distribution of oyster shells that make it harder for flying predators to distinguish where the chicks are located.

Going for another load of oyster shells to distribute on the nesting area.
Going for another load of oyster shells to distribute on the nesting area.

The number of volunteers ranged from 12 to as many as 30 each month.  Among the volunteers this season were members of the Tau Beta Pi engineering fraternity at UC Berkeley, which has been sending volunteers for many years, and members of the Encinal High School Key Club.

Setting out the chick shelters.
Setting out the chick shelters.

Volunteers will return in September after the terns are gone.  They will gather up the A-frames, clay tiles, oyster shells, and the numbered plaster markers that the US Fish & Wildlife Service uses to keep track of nesting success.  Picking up the “tern furniture” allows for weed control and periodic grading of the sand and gravel.

During May, June, and July, another set of volunteers participate in the “Tern Watch Program.”  Volunteers are trained in recording observations as they watch from their vehicle near the nesting site.  A cinder block grid system helps in recording feeding activity, among other things.  If predators are threatening the colony, the volunteers alert the Fish & Wildlife Service in the office nearby.

Volunteer opportunities:

Return of the Terns tours

On June 15th, the general public gets an opportunity to observe the nesting activity of the terns during a bus tour to the site.  The tours leave from Crab Cove Visitor Center in Alameda.  Registration and a fee are required.  More info is on the Return of the Terns flyer.

Previous stories about the least terns:

Least terns depart – volunteers move in at Alameda Point refuge

Protecting the California Least Terns at the Alameda Point Wildlife Refuge

January – April 2013 Photo Gallery

Click on photos to enlarge and view slideshow

Bird life on the Nature Reserve at Alameda Point

The Alameda City Council, on March 19, 2013, unanimously approved a resolution affirming support for a nature reserve at Alameda Point.  The resolution calls for a zoning designation of “Nature Reserve” for the runway area formerly proposed for a national wildlife refuge.

Alameda Point Proposed Zoning MapAfter an impasse was reached in negotiations between the Navy and the US Fish & Wildlife Service for creation of a national wildlife refuge in 2004, the property was offered to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).  The VA plans to build an outpatient clinic and columbarium on 112 acres of its land, but the remaining 511 acres of VA land will remain undeveloped.  The undeveloped area is where the endangered California Least Terns come to nest from early April to mid-August every year.  

The city’s nature reserve zoning designation will not have any mandatory impact on the VA, but rather is intended to convey the continuing value that the community places on wildlife conservation at Alameda Point.

March and April 2013 bird sightings on the Nature Reserve at Alameda Point.

Black-bellied Plover.  Summer breeding range is the north coast of Alaska and the Canadian Arctic.
Black-bellied Plover. Summer breeding range is the north coast of Alaska and the Canadian Arctic.  Seen here on the margins of seasonal wetland that the VA project will impact.
American Avocets on seasonal wetland that will be covered by VA clinic/columbarium project.  Can be replaced elsewhere on Nature Reserve.
American Avocets on seasonal wetland that will be covered by VA clinic/columbarium project. Can be replaced elsewhere on Nature Reserve.
Caspian Terns next to seasonal wetland that will be impacted by VA project.
Caspian Terns next to seasonal wetland that will be impacted by VA project.
Killdeer mating next to least tern nesting site.  Killdeer often nest inside the least tern area.  Killdeer are attracted to the Nature Reserve in abundance.
Killdeer mating next to least tern nesting site. Killdeer often nest inside the least tern area. Killdeer are attracted to the Nature Reserve in abundance.
Great Blue Heron nesting in a cypress tree in the Runway Wetland.
Great Blue Heron nesting in a cypress tree in the Runway Wetland.
Horned Lark on foraging on grassland, with mate nearby.
Horned Lark foraging on grassland, with mate nearby.
Turkey Vulture soaring over the reserve.  Turkey Vultures feed on animal carcasses, such as rabbits that have been taken by hawks.
Turkey Vulture soaring over the reserve. Turkey Vultures feed on animal carcasses, such as rabbits that have been taken by hawks.