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”

Navy to sell vacant housing

On Wednesday, April 12, the Navy will auction off part of its long vacant military housing known as North Housing.  The opening bid for the 14.9-acre parcel is $5 million.  The online auction is being conducted by the federal General Services Administration.

In the coming months, another part of the North Housing neighborhood will be given to the Alameda Housing Authority and to Habitat for Humanity, and the former Island High School and Woodstock Child Development Center in the neighborhood will be given to Alameda Unified School District.

north-housing-land-use-map-added-detail
A complicated land disposal process for the area began about 10 years ago when the Coast Guard decided not to accept the housing site.  Continue reading “Navy to sell vacant housing”

Navy presents parkland cleanup plans

The Navy will present options on possible ways to clean up 60 acres at Alameda Point slated for a regional park on Thursday night.  The draft cleanup options for Site 32 represent the culmination of 25 years of groundwater and soil studies that began before base closure was announced.  Only five acres have been flagged for cleanup, but uncertainty about what lies beneath the pavement and structures requires a conservative approach.

site-32-map-with-notations

The site lies in the northwest portion of the old airfield along the Oakland Estuary and features open grassland, seasonal wetlands, runway, a large concrete bunker and two buildings.  Input from the community and regulatory agencies on the cleanup plan will have a major impact on the design and use of the future park. Continue reading “Navy presents parkland cleanup plans”

Radium safety enhanced at Seaplane Lagoon

The City of Alameda became the new owner of the Seaplane Lagoon at Alameda Point on April 13, 2016. It came from the Navy with a new condition that exceeds normal protocols for dredging in San Francisco Bay.

As with all cleanup sites, the Navy, city and regulators agreed to what areas needed to be cleaned up in the Seaplane Lagoon. The cleanup plan approved in 2006 was based on testing the sediment throughout the 110-acre lagoon. The problem areas were confined to about 10 acres at the northeast and northwest corners of the lagoon where storm sewers dumped contaminants prior to 1970s environmental laws. The agreed upon plan said that there would be no restrictions on the lagoon when cleanup was done.

Dredging the northwest corner of the Seaplane Lagoon in February 2012.
Dredging the northwest corner of the Seaplane Lagoon in February 2012.

After cleanup was completed, two years of discussions between the Navy, state and federal regulators, and the city led to an amendment to the official cleanup decision to include a detailed management plan for any future dredging in the Seaplane Lagoon. The city led the effort to create a sediment management plan. It stipulates that all dredge sediment brought to the surface will have to be spread out six inches thick on a drying pad and scanned for radium-226 radiation at a cost borne by the city. Continue reading “Radium safety enhanced at Seaplane Lagoon”

Demolition of former Navy apartments begins

The demolition of 16 former Navy apartment buildings at Alameda Point has begun. On January 5, 2016, the City Council awarded a $547,000 contract to Asbestos Management Group of Oakland to perform the demolition.

Demolition of Navy apartment buildings at West Tower Avenue and Orion Street, Alameda Point.
Demolition of Navy apartment buildings at West Tower Avenue and Orion Street, Alameda Point.

In April of 2015, the city council directed city staff to come up with a plan to address safety and blight issues after KTVU Channel 2 aired a story about unsafe conditions at the abandoned housing area.

The structures are located on Orion Street, West Tower Avenue, Stardust Place and Pearl Harbor Road. Demolition began during the second week of March and is expected to be completed within 60 days. The job is being paid for out of Alameda Point base reuse funds.
Continue reading “Demolition of former Navy apartments begins”

Navy adds a wetland and grassland

The Navy’s cleanup program has not only removed toxic substances from below ground, it has dramatically improved some of the above ground environment by creating new native grassland and wetlands. January rains filled the Navy’s new seasonal wetland on the northwest shoreline corner of Alameda Point and fostered growth of newly planted native grass seed on the surrounding soil.

New Site 1 wetland on January 13, 2016, with San Francisco in background. Rows in soil with emerging growth were created during sowing of seeds. Navy photo.
New Site 1 wetland on January 13, 2016, with San Francisco in background. Rows in soil with emerging growth were created during sowing of seeds. Navy photo.

The 2.25-acre wetland lies within an approximately 37-acre shoreline cleanup area known as Site 1 at the confluence of the Oakland Estuary and San Francisco Bay. It is where the Navy buried its waste between 1943 and 1956. Most of the waste pits were covered by pavement in the mid-1950s when a new runway was added.

The approved plan for leaving the waste in place was completed in 2015 after 17 years of study by state and federal regulatory agencies. None of the studies showed any toxic leaching from the waste material into Bay waters after sitting below the water table for more than 50 years. Hence, the plan to further isolate the waste with a soil cover mirrors the remedy used at other underground dumps.

The Navy will be responsible in perpetuity if anything fails, just as with other Superfund cleanup sites at Alameda Point.

The Navy was required to create the new wetland as a mitigation measure for covering existing wetland with some of the soil cover. The secondary objective was to provide increased native plant and wildlife habitat along San Francisco Bay.

This mitigation requirement means that marginal wetlands that appeared by happenstance from runway drainage have now been replaced by a high quality engineered wetland. The new wetland holds a much larger volume of water and is situated to capture runoff from the soil cover. It is also engineered at a lower elevation than the wetlands it replaces, thereby increasing water retention and allowing for recharging as sea level rises. There is no waste material located below the new wetland.

After removing old pavement and sculpting the site, the wetland substrate was created using imported clean fill material and topsoil.  The soil was then amended with gypsum and potassium sulfate to facilitate growth of wetland plant species.

Learning a bitter lesson from a failed attempt in 2014 to grow native grasses by blowing seeds from a truck onto the soil at the nearby Site 2 cleanup area, the Navy used a different method at both sites. Known as drill seeding, the method involves cutting into the soil with a disc machine and simultaneously depositing seeds. It is followed up with a mulch cover.

Site 1 wetland in late 2015 after seeding and covering with green-colored hydromulch. Tree sections were added for birds to perch on. Navy photo.
Site 1 wetland in late 2015 after seeding and covering with green-colored hydromulch. Tree sections were added for birds to perch on. Navy photo.

Thirteen grass species were planted on the lower zone of the new wetland where longer-term saturation will occur. Another seven species were planted on the upper zone. The seeded area was then covered with mulch. The soil cover over the former dump received another eight species of native grass seed. The palette includes such grasses as chairmaker’s bulrush, seaside heliotrope, Baltic rush, white yarrow, and coyote brush, all of which produce flowers.

The Site 1 grassland and wetland is on land slated to be transferred to the city at no cost and to become part of a 147-acre regional park. Plans call for additional wild grassland and wetlands.

Site 1 soil cover after green-colored mulch was applied in 2015. Green coloring has since disappeared. Navy photo.
Site 1 soil cover after green-colored mulch was applied in 2015. Green coloring has since disappeared. Navy photo.

The Navy’s new wetland sits directly atop the original narrow landmass extending into the Bay that carried train cars to a ferry terminal at the site. Completed in 1859, this strip was called the Alameda Mole.

The Navy’s grassland and wetland work at Site 1 and Site 2 on the old airfield is the only ecological habitat creation, other than the placement of sand on the 9.6-acre least tern nesting site, since military operations ended in April of 1997.

Published in the Alameda Sun.

Additional photos and complete list of native grasses planted on Site 1.

Wetland with soil amendments added. Navy photo.
Wetland with soil amendments added. Navy photo.
Wetland after placing wood features and mulch. Navy photo.
Wetland after placing wood features and mulch. Navy photo.
Native grass seeds loaded into disc planter. Navy photo.
Native grass seeds loaded into disc planter. Navy photo.

Site 1 vegetation plant list 

Zone A (Wetland Mitigation Area) (lower)

  • Salicornia virginica – NC (pickleweed)
  • Juncus effuses (common bog rush)
  • Eleocharis macrostachya (pale spikerush)
  • Frankenia salina (alkali heath)
  • Schoenoplectus americanus (chairmaker’s bulrush)
  • Beckmannia syzigachne-NC (slough grass)
  • Bolboshoenus maritimus (alkali bulrush)
  • Heliotroppium curassavicum (seaside heliotrope)
  • Grindelia stricta (coastal gum plant)
  • Cressa truxillensis (spreading alkaliweed)
  • Juncus balticus (Baltic rush)
  • Hordeum depressum (dwarf barley)
  • Cyperus eragrostis (tall flatsedge)

Zone B (Wetland Mitigation Area) (upper)

  • Artemisia pycnocephala (coastal sagewort)
  • Achillea millefolium, White (white yarrow)
  • Festuca rubra Molate (creeping red fescue)
  • Elymus triticoides (beardless wild rye)
  • Hordeum brachyantherum (California meadow barley)
  • Distichlis spicata (salt grass)
  • Carexpraegracilis (clustered field sedge)

Greater WIC (Waste Isolation Cover)

  • Achillea millefolium, White (white yarrow)
  • Baccharis pilularis (coyote brush)
  • Bromus carinatus, Sonoma (California brome grass)
  • Elymus glaucus, Berkeley (blue wildrye)
  • Lupinus nanus (sky lupine)
  • Distichlis spicata (salt grass)
  • Trifolium ciliatum, Inoc (foothill clover)
  • Vulpia microstachys (small fescue)

City receives award for brownfield redevelopment

The city has received a prestigious award for its successful collaboration with a private developer on a brownfield redevelopment project—namely, Alameda Landing. The new retail and residential area is located near the Webster/Posey Tubes.  

“The Landing is a complex project that lends itself to a public-private partnership,” said Debbie Potter, the city’s Community Development Director. Potter accepted the Phoenix Award on behalf of the city at the “Brownfields 2015” conference in Chicago.  The award dovetailed with the conference theme of transforming blighted areas into productive sustainable development projects.  

An old warehouse used for the Navy's former Fleet Industrial Supply Center and a crane at the Port of Oakland provide a backdrop for condominiums nearing completion on Bette Street at Alameda Landing.
An old warehouse used for the Navy’s former Fleet Industrial Supply Center and a crane at the Port of Oakland provide a backdrop for condominiums nearing completion on Bette Street at Alameda Landing.

“Public-private partnership is pretty much the model at all former military bases.  But it’s not a business model that every developer embraces,” said Potter.  “Business is conducted in public.”  

More business will be conducted in public early next year when Catellus is expected to approach the city council with revised plans for the last and final phase, which will include downsizing the previously approved office space and adding housing.

One project is selected from each of the 10 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regions. Alameda Landing took home the award for Region 9, which covers California, Nevada, Arizona, Hawaii and Pacific Islands.    

The city inherited a potentially valuable land asset from the Navy in 2000—a housing area that was to become Bayport, and an abandoned naval supply complex and hospital that was to become the Landing. Soon thereafter, the city selected Catellus as the developer.  

Since then, challenges have been a frequent companion.   The city and Catellus “had to work through infrastructure challenges, regulatory challenges, and financing challenges,” said Potter.  “Virtually every aspect has required special attention, from soil conditions to retail makeup to the strength of the pier structure along the waterfront.” 

As Bayport construction was underway, it became apparent that the initial proposed plan for 1.3 million square feet of research and development office space at the Landing was not viable.  The time to adapt or die arrived early.  “Being nimble throughout the process is key,” said Potter.  “Without flexibility, you end up with no project.”

By early 2007, the city had decided to give Catellus wide latitude on what it was allowed by right to construct at Alameda Landing.  Any configuration is allowed as long as the impacts, namely traffic, do not exceed the impacts identified in the environmental impact report.

The most significant changes were the slashing of office space to 400,000 square feet and the addition of up to 300 residential units at Alameda Landing.

In 2009, while the city and Catellus were waiting on the economy to rebound from the last recession, a fire of suspicious origin engulfed the abandoned hospital, which was still owned by the city.  Lead and asbestos were incinerated in the fire.  The added demolition and special cleanup costs amounted to several million dollars.  The city will finally recoup all of its cleanup costs with a final payment from Catellus during the waterfront phase, according to Potter.

Wooden debris being cleaned up after a fire destroyed the abandoned Navy hospital in 2009. Location is about 100 feet west of Target at Alameda Landing. Looking northwest. Photo used by permission from City of Alameda.
Wooden debris being cleaned up after a fire destroyed the abandoned Navy hospital in 2009. Location is about 100 feet west of Target at Alameda Landing. Looking northwest. Photo used by permission from City of Alameda.

Most of the Landing retail space is now filled, and the 284 residential units are nearing completion.  “Tri Pointe is the first private multifamily housing constructed in Alameda since the charter amendment known as Measure A was enacted in 1973,” said Potter.  “The Tri Pointe residential project was approved under provisions of the city’s Density Bonus Ordinance.”

Generous landscaping complements the loft-style condominiums at Alameda Landing near Target.
Generous landscaping complements the loft-style condominiums at Alameda Landing near Target.

Construction is about to begin on Stargell Commons, 32 rental units for low- and very-low-income households, along with a community center.  Catellus is bringing the infrastructure to the site and contributing $2 million for this project.  The City of Alameda Housing Authority will own the land and lease the land to Resources for Community Development, which will build and manage the complex.

Stargell Commons, to be located at Bette Street and Stargell Avenue at Alameda Landing.
Stargell Commons, to be located at Bette Street and Stargell Avenue at Alameda Landing.

The final phase of the Landing—in the warehouse area between Mitchell Avenue and the Oakland Estuary that was originally slated for office space, a Miracle League baseball park, and a waterfront park and promenade—begins next year.

But first, the city council will be asked to approve a major revision that will include the addition of housing and the subtraction of office space due to weak demand. The Miracle League baseball park has been scratched because it’s now slated to become part of Estuary Park nearby, which Catellus contributed toward.  

The authority for adding housing to the last phase of the Landing project originated in 2012, when the former city council updated the General Plan Housing Element, creating a Multifamily Overlay zoning designation. These special overlay zones, or sites, provide the rights for multifamily housing on specific sites.  It designated 10 acres at 30 units per acre on the land north of Mitchell Avenue.

“It gives Catellus zoning rights to residential if they want to pursue residential,” said Potter.  “No amendment to the development agreement or master plan is needed,” explained Potter. “But keep in mind that the zoning designation—multifamily overlay—is constrained by the requirement that any revised uses must fit within the environmental impact report and not generate additional impacts.”

The city currently owns the warehouse area north of Mitchell and collects about $800,000 a year in rent from two tenants. The land will be sold to Catellus upon approval of the revised plan. 

The Phoenix Awards Institute, Inc., a nonprofit, administers the awards. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the International City/County Management Association organized the national conference in Chicago.

Originally published in the Alameda Sun.

Brownfield definition:  “A brownfield is a property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.”  Source:  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Additional info:  California State Water Resources Control Board Brownfields Program.

Stargell Commons courtyard close-up.
Stargell Commons courtyard close-up.
Bioswale water filtration in the parking lot of Alameda Landing retail area.
Bioswale water filtration in the parking lot of Alameda Landing retail area.
Description of "bioswales" in Alameda Landing parking lot.
Description of “bioswales” in Alameda Landing parking lot.
Bioswale natural filtration for water runoff in residential area of Alameda Landing.
Bioswale natural filtration for water runoff in residential area of Alameda Landing.