The Navy began embedding a steel barrier along several hundred feet of the western shoreline of Alameda Point during the week of August 18. The purpose of the barrier is to contain contaminated ash and burn waste material that was bulldozed into the Bay some 60 years ago and is now overlain with silt. The area is where the Navy burned various waste materials.
The containment system is called a waste isolation barrier. It consists of 35-foot-long interlocking steel pilings that are hammered into the ground with a hydraulic vibrator suspended from a crane cable. Perpendicular steel walls behind the barrier add stability. The final elevation of the top of the waste isolation barrier will be approximately 10 feet above mean sea level.
Tests around the area were conducted in 2010, 2011, and 2012 to determine if any of the chemicals in the burn residue were entering San Francisco Bay. None were found to be entering the Bay. Nevertheless, the Burn Area’s proximity to the Bay requires that the contaminated waste either be removed or permanently isolated. Removing all of the waste from under the shoreline would have cost $40 million. The containment system costs $13 million.
The construction of the shoreline waste barrier is part of a larger Navy cleanup project on the adjacent 37 acres, called Site 1, which was once used as an underground waste disposal area. Much of the area is now covered by runway pavement that will remain in place. The entire 37 acres right up to the steel barrier will be covered with three feet of clean soil and seeded with native vegetation. A small wetland area will also be created along the shoreline.
When completed early next year, the area will be suitable for passive recreational use, including the Bay Trail.
The work can be observed from the Oakland side of the estuary at Middle Harbor Shoreline Park right next to the cranes.
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.
It’s more likely a new wetland will be created on the western shoreline of the Seaplane Lagoon at Alameda Point, thanks to lobbying efforts led by the Sierra Club.
On July 1, 2014, the Alameda City Council added language to the Alameda Point Town Center and Waterfront Specific Plan that raises the commitment to remove pavement from the western side of the Seaplane Lagoon for wetland—an area called De-Pave Park. Lobbying efforts convinced the council to include the following options to help facilitate the wetland park creation: 1) creating a wetland mitigation bank; 2) adding the area to a possible national wildlife refuge on the federal property; and 3) working with local community members who may identify funding sources for creating the passive park area.Continue reading “Wetland park plan at Seaplane Lagoon gets a boost”
The city’s west side of the Seaplane Lagoon at Alameda Point is mostly pavement – acres of it – with a few old buildings abutting a wetland on the federal property. The city claims its long-range plan for this area features a conversion to a wetland habitat, but their only commitment is to continue leasing the buildings to generate revenue while allowing a sea of unnecessary pavement to remain as an environmental blight.
Opportunities for implementing ecosystem enhancement, both short and long term, have yet to be explored for this area. We need to start moving in a direction now that benefits the environment by reducing climate impacts, improves the atmosphere around nearby businesses, adds to public enjoyment, and increases wildlife habitat.
Proposal for ecosystem enhancement
Short-term plan – Remove all pavement not required for commercial tenants. Recycle the pavement at the VA’s Alameda Point project site where they will be raising elevation and need base rock and fill. Once the pavement is removed and the soil exposed, native vegetation could be planted. Native vegetation will absorb CO2, produce oxygen, eliminate the heat island effect of the former pavement, add wildlife habitat, improve the aesthetic appearance of the property, and make it attractive as a hiking, jogging, and cycling destination.
Step 1 – Set aside money from lease revenue generated on the west side of the Seaplane Lagoon for pavement removal and introduction of native plant vegetation.
Step 2 – Explore recycling pavement at Alameda Point.
Step 3 – Explore grant sources for conversion of paved areas to native vegetation, i.e., state air quality board, EPA, State Lands Commission, etc.
Long-term plan –Establish an Alameda Point Wetland Mitigation Bank, which would incorporate the west Seaplane Lagoon acreage along with 50 acres on the northwest side of Alameda Point (Northwest Territories). Investment money would provide the capital for wetland creation, with money being recouped when mitigation credits are sold to developers elsewhere in the Bay watershed to offset their project’s impacts. As a general rule, a tidal wetland is worth at least as much as it would cost to create it. That’s why businesses exist that specialize in mitigation banks. In theory at least, the wetland project could be self-funding.
Step 1 – Commission a study on wetland mitigation bank formation using lease revenue from Buildings 25 and 29.
A Black-crowned Night Heron adult and its juvenile offspring were spotted along the south shoreline of Alameda Point during May and June of this year. The juvenile was seen foraging for food on the shoreline, as well as using the old dock for a resting area. Use of the old dock by a wide variety of birds, as well as a family of harbor seals, illustrates the habitat value of the waterfront and the wisdom of providing a new wildlife water platform when the Water Emergency Transit Authority removes the old dock for their new maintenance facility this year.
A public hearing is scheduled for January 6, 2014 in San Francisco to take comments on the proposed facility for Bay ferries at Alameda Point. It is the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) Design Review Board’s first hearing to determine if the project complies with guidelines for ensuring maximum public shoreline access, preserving scenic views, and enhancing the shoreline visual experience through appropriate design appearance.
Located on Hornet Avenue at Ferry Point Road near the U.S.S. Hornet on a four-acre site to be leased from the City of Alameda, the facility will service and maintain ferries owned by the Water Emergency Transit Authority (WETA) operating in the Central Bay. The project will include a 70-foot-tall four story building for maintenance, dispatch, and administrative tasks, a service yard, and floating berthing facilities for 12 vessels. Demolition of the old recreational dock and retaining wall, and dredging of the berthing area is scheduled to begin in the summer of 2014.
A variety of activities will take place at the facility, including refueling ferries from new underground fuel tanks, bilge and sewer pump-out, fluid replenishment, repair and replacement of vessel equipment, trash disposal, cleaning and painting of vessels, and storage and replenishment of concessionary items for passengers.
WETA, in consultation with BCDC staff, proposes enhancements to the adjacent park area owned by the city. The proposal that BCDC is seeking comment on would realign and extend the existing Bay Trail so that it better serves as a connection to the U.S.S. Hornet Museum and the existing public access areas through the maritime ship site to the Seaplane Lagoon. Approximately 100 feet of the existing trail and path would be removed and replaced with approximately 145 feet of new 10-foot wide trail and path.
According to the BCDC staff report, “In addition, a new 17-foot-wide extension of the Bay Trail would be constructed along the 289-foot northern length of the project site along Hornet Avenue. This portion of the trail would include a two-foot-wide landscaped area adjacent to the project site, 12 new street trees in three-foot by six-foot tree wells adjacent to a six-inch curb and an 11.5-foot-wide pedestrian and bicycle trail. Beyond this area and through the Hornet and MARAD [maritime ship] site, signage would indicate the route for pedestrians and bicyclists.”
The BCDC report continues by saying, “Approximately 6,850 square feet of the park would be landscaped between the realigned trail and the project site, including irrigated turf and low lush planting with a break in the landscaping provided to create ‘windows’ into the work yard. Interpretive signage would describe the unique working waterfront activities. Nine trees in three clusters are proposed to better define the spatial qualities of the setting and to provide shade and visual interest. In addition, six benches are planned along the shoreline. Opposite the benches will be an interpretive sign describing the role and function of the WETA berthing facilities.”
One impact not accounted for in WETA’s state and federal environmental reviews is the displacement of harbor seals when WETA removes the old dock that is used as a haul out. Constructing an anchored floating platform nearby for harbor seals and birds would make up for the old dock that has served as a wildlife resting site since base closure 16 years ago. WETA should add a wildlife platform to its budget. Wildlife and the visiting public will greatly appreciate it.
The Monday, January 6, 2014 hearing will be held at the BCDC McAteer-Petris Conference Room, 455 Golden Gate Avenue, Suite 10600, San Francisco. The hearing begins at 6:30 pm. For information about the meeting, the public is directed to contact Ellen Miramontes at (415) 352-3643 email@example.com.