Cleanup plan changes at waste burning area

Northwest tip of Alameda Point.  Waste burning area is immediately to the right of trees.  Port of Oakland is in background.
Northwest tip of Alameda Point. Waste burning area is immediately to the right of trees.  Port of Oakland is in background.

It was the 1950s, before the environmental movement of the 1970s and the laws that followed in its wake.  Hauling waste materials out to the western shoreline of Alameda Point to be burned and bulldozed into the Bay was not considered irresponsible.  The “Burn Area,” as it is called, lies next to the shore near the entrance to the Oakland Estuary.

Burn Area on Site 1.  San Francisco Bay to the left.  Oakland Estuary to the north.
Burn Area on Site 1. San Francisco Bay to the left. Oakland Estuary to the north.

By 2009, the Navy was ready with a plan to finally remove several acres of contaminated Burn Area soil and haul it away.  In 2010, testing by the cleanup contractor preparing to do the work, however, revealed additional burn residue that extends over a longer area and under the shoreline slope.  The new information triggered a complete re-evaluation of the plan.

Excavation and removal at the greater depth and under the shore would drive the cost up from the original $5 million to $40 million.  Fortunately for the Navy, a new and lower cost option became available just as the Navy and regulatory agencies were gathering more soil and groundwater data and discussing options.

In 2011, the US Army Corps of Engineers approved a shoreline steel containment system called an “open cell vertical confined disposal facility.”  Primarily used for harbor and waterway reinforcement and as a containment area for dredge sediment, the system is also suitable for permanently isolating and containing the toxic burn material along several hundred feet of Bay shoreline.  This option will cost $13 million.

Open cell sheet pile containment system under construction at Dutch Harbor, Alaska.  Photo source:  US Army Corps of Engineers 2011 report.
Open cell sheet pile containment system under construction at Dutch Harbor, Alaska.  The same system is proposed for the Alameda Point Burn Area.  Photo source: US Army Corps of Engineers 2011 report.

The Navy calls the open cell system a “waste isolation bulkhead.”  It consists of a wall of interlocked steel plates embedded in the earth along the shoreline.  Perpendicular steel walls extend toward the shoreline to form cells, or compartments, and provide anchorage.  The absence of welding to hold the system together allows it to flex without failing and eliminates the problem of welds corroding.

Tests around the Burn 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 it either be removed or permanently isolated.

The Burn Area is located on the 37-acre Site 1 cleanup area.  The site includes about a half dozen unlined underground pits that were used for waste disposal and are now partially covered by runway pavement.

Site 1 landfill map.  Area 1b is the Burn Area as it was originally configured.
Site 1 landfill map. Area 1b is the Burn Area as it was originally configured.  Click to enlarge.

Cleanup of a solvent plume on Site 1 that posed a potential threat to the Bay took place last year.  Previous cleanup on the site included removal of debris and soil contaminated by radium-226 used in painting luminescent aircraft dials.

When the Navy is finished with the Burn Area bulkhead barrier, the Burn Area will again be tested for radiological contamination.  All 37 acres of Site 1 will then be covered by at least two feet of clean soil and seeded with native grasses.

Site 1 will be available for passive recreational use as part of the proposed 147-acre regional park along the northern shoreline.  Site 1 will be part of the final conveyance of land to the city slated for 2019.  The VA’s property is adjacent and to the south and east.

The Navy’s project manager along with the cleanup contractor for Site 1 will be present at a special public meeting to answer questions and take comments on the new proposed plan for the Burn Area.  The meeting is on April 9 at the Alameda Main Library, 1550 Oak Street, from 6:30 pm to 8:00 pm.

Originally published in the Alameda Sun.

Further Reading on the Navy’s Burn Area Study

The Navy’s recently-completed soil and groundwater study for the Burn Area is called a Focused Feasibility Study (FFS) and is located on the state Envirostor website.

The FFS is very large and is divided into parts.  Recommended parts to look at first:

Part 1, Part 3 (cool maps), Part 4 (mostly raw data, but has trench photos), and Part 8 (descriptive letters from PND Engineers that own the patent on the open cell system, and all the comments by the regulatory agencies and the responses to comments.)  Part 5 has a lot of technical data and description of the groundwater model in relation to the Bay.

Reference material on the open cell barrier proposed for the Burn Area:

US Army Corps of Engineers 2011 report on the use of the Open Cell Sheet Pile Containment System for contaminated dredge material.

Overview of the Open Cell Confinement Disposal Facility system by PND Engineers.

2012 report to the Alaska Legislature on the Open Cell system.

Image highlights from the Focused Feasibility Study for the Site 1 Burn Area

Click on images to enlarge.

Alameda Point 2012 environmental cleanup review, and busy year ahead

Cleanup activity at Alameda Point in 2012 started where it left off in 2011 — at the Seaplane Lagoon.  The northwest corner of the lagoon was the site of the second and final phase of lagoon dredging, which targeted sediment that had been contaminated near storm drain outfalls.  With dredging completed by spring, the sight of Americas Cup racing yachts arriving at their temporary dock in the lagoon seemed to be a harbinger of the approaching end of the Superfund era at the Point.

Dredging northwest corner of Seaplane Lagoon
Dredging northwest corner of Seaplane Lagoon

Just outside the Seaplane Lagoon, another dredging operation was started and finished at one of the maritime ship piers where the Cape Orlando had been docked.  By November, the massive ship was back at dockside, hull lights glowing at night.

Dredging Pier 1 wharf area
Dredging Pier 1 wharf area

In one of the most complicated and contaminated areas to the east of the Seaplane Lagoon, cleanup work began at an area 30 feet below ground where a cleaning solvent used on aircraft parts had seeped into the groundwater.  After driving a series of metal bars down to the contaminated area, the soil, groundwater, and solvent were heated to just below simmering by means of electricity.  This turned the water and solvent into vapor, which was then vacuumed out into a filtering system through a series of pipes. 

Heat treatment and vapor extraction - OU-2B
Heat treatment and vapor extraction – OU-2B

At the far end of Alameda Point on the northwest landfill, the Navy relied on chemicals, rather than heat, to do the cleanup on a small portion of the site.  Dozens of hoses snaking around the site to the injection wells delivered an oxidizing mixture of neutralizing chemicals into a pocket of solvents.  Without this remediation, the solvents had the potential to reach the Bay.

Injecting oxidizing chemical into solvent plume - Site 1.  Navy photo.
Injecting oxidizing chemical into solvent plume – Site 1. Navy photo.

The year ends with a cloud of controversy over the Navy’s plan for leaving drain pipes under the old Naval Air Rework Facility — Building 5.  Letters from both the Restoration Advisory Board (RAB) and the city call for the complete removal of any lines containing radium paint waste.  The Navy ruled out a more costly alternative that would remove all the contaminated pipes.  The city challenged this decision, in part, on the ground that the Navy’s cost estimates for a thorough job are inflated and have asked that they reconsider.

Building 5
Building 5

Also in Building 5, plans to remove above-ground radium contamination from floors, walls, and ceilings in the mezzanine area will get underway within weeks.  This area is where aircraft dials and markers were painted with radium paint that provided visibility in the dark.  A final scanning investigation to detect radium, using sophisticated equipment employed in the decommissioning of nuclear power plants, found dozens of pie-sized irregular areas where radium dust had embedded in the surfaces.  This project will conclude two decades of scanning and radium removal efforts in Building 5 and other buildings.  Around $50 million has already been spent replacing drain lines leading to the lagoon under the surrounding tarmac, and dredging the lagoon, due to the disposal of radium paint and other chemicals down storm drains.

Scanning a wall for radiological contamination.  Navy photo.
Scanning a wall for radiological contamination. Navy photo.


2013 will see the long-awaited final soil cover installed on the waste disposal site called Site 2 on the southwest corner of the wildlife refuge.  It will be the largest engineering project since the runways were expanded in the 1950s, with over 200,000 cubic yards of clean soil being barged in from Decker Island in the Sacramento River.  It will be seeded with California native flowering grasses selected by the RAB.  This is the controversial dump that led the US Fish & Wildlife Service to balk at accepting the land for a wildlife refuge ten years ago.  Since then, this dump has seen numerous reviews and a new plan that the US Environmental Protection Agency, regional Water Board, and state Department of Toxic Substances Control will be signing off on shortly.

Site 2 underground dump on southwest corner of Alameda Point.
Site 2 underground dump on southwest corner of Alameda Point.

2013 will end with commencement of a similar soil covering operation on the nearby landfill on the northwest corner of Alameda Point called Site 1.  Both landfill areas will be safe for open space recreational activities when completed, but will be limited to hiking trails rather than mowed playing fields in order to maintain soil-stabilizing vegetation. 

Northwest corner of Alameda Point where soil cover will be installed.
Northwest corner of Alameda Point where soil cover will be installed.

Point Being: Clean Ups and Downs

Dredging northeast corner of Seaplane Lagoon

Cleanup at Alameda Point continues to unfold. Every month the Restoration Advisory Board meets to stay apprised of the happenings and offer comments. The public is invited to attend on the first Thursday of the month, 6:30 p.m. at the rear of City Hall West at Alameda Point. Here are some highlights from the February meeting and a “Point Being” video update on the Seaplane Lagoon.

Site 1 at western end of Alameda Point in Northwest Territories - burn area in background - Bay Bridge in distance

Site 1 – Burn Area Larger Than Expected

There’s a glitch in the ditch at Site 1 out at the northwestern tip, in the Northwest Territories.  This is one of two of the Navy’s industrial dumps (aka disposal sites – the other one being Site 2 to the south on the Wildlife Refuge), and plans were on the calendar to begin the remediation plan on the 30-acre Site 1, which is set to become recreational open space, this year. But instead of 2013, it will now be 2015 before we are throwing Frisbees, riding the Bay Trail, or launching kayaks on the windy, incomparable western shore.

The plan was, and still is, to install a four-foot engineered soil cap on top of the site, after digging out and hauling away refuse from the burn area, where things like railroad ties were burned, which makes up a small part of the site. But as the Navy contractor was doing prep work for a detailed work plan, they discovered that the old burn area is larger than expected and that soil under the burn area “exceeded remediation goals,” which at the very least means more testing to find out what else is there.

Continue reading “Point Being: Clean Ups and Downs”