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This mitigation requirement means that marginal wetlands that appeared by happenstance from runway drainage have now been replaced by a high quality engineered wetland.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)

Environmental cleanup update – November 2014

Navy environmental cleanup operations at Alameda Point ran the gamut during the summer and fall of 2014.

Operations included using bacteria to clean up groundwater, grinding radium out of a building floor, digging up lead-contaminated soil, constructing a metal shoreline waste barrier, digging up shoreline waste, preparing to install a 30-acre soil cover, constructing a new shoreline wetland, checking drain lines for contamination with cameras, and demolishing a several-acre temporary concrete drying pad near the old Control Tower.

Aerial view of Site 1 cleanup area at northwest tip of Alameda Point, showing newly installed waste isolation barrier along Bay shoreline, piles of contaminated soil in horseshoe shaped area that were excavated from watery pit on right, and stockpiled soil on old runway to be used for soil cover.  A wetland area will be constructed on clear strip on left along Oakland Estuary.  Navy photo.
Aerial view of Site 1 cleanup area at northwest tip of Alameda Point, showing newly installed waste isolation barrier along Bay shoreline, piles of contaminated soil in horseshoe shaped area that were excavated from watery pit on right, and stockpiled soil on old runway to be used for soil cover. A wetland area will be constructed on clear strip on left along Oakland Estuary. Navy photo.

Continue reading “Environmental cleanup update – November 2014”

Shoreline contamination barrier under construction at NW tip of Alameda Point

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.

Three of the waste isolation cells under construction at northwestern tip of Alameda Point.  A total of 15  cells, each one separated by a wall behind the face of the barrier, will be constructed here.
Three of the waste isolation cells under construction at northwestern tip of Alameda Point. A total of 15 cells, each one separated by a wall behind the face of the barrier, will be constructed here.

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.

A worker guides one of the galvanized steel pilings into place as crane operator maneuvers.
A worker guides one of the galvanized steel pilings into place as crane operator maneuvers.

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.

Piling being slowly driven into the ground by a hydraulically operated vibratory hammer.
Piling being slowly driven into the ground by a hydraulically operated vibratory hammer.

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.

Site 1 cleanup project with crane.  Oakland Estuary in the foreground and San Francisco in the background.
Site 1 cleanup project with crane. Oakland Estuary in the foreground and San Francisco in the background.

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.

Originally published in the Alameda Sun.

Background information can be found in this post from April 2013.

More photos and a diagram below 

Waste isolation barrier, looking east

Interlocking pilings closeup

Waste isolation barrier will have 12 more cells to the right when completed.
Waste isolation barrier will have 12 more cells to the right when completed.
Diagram of shoreline waste isolation barrier at northwestern tip of Alameda Point.  Navy diagram.
Diagram of shoreline waste isolation barrier at northwestern tip of Alameda Point. Navy diagram.

Site 1 waste isolation barrier under construction

Environmental cleanup reaches milestones as work continues

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.

North Pond of West Wetland on southwest corner of Alameda Point.  Pond is connected to San Francisco Bay via a new culvert near upper left of pond.  Landfill soil cover is partially visible on far side of pond and will be seeded with flowering native grasses later this year.
North Pond of West Wetland on southwest corner of Alameda Point. Pond is connected to San Francisco Bay via a new culvert near upper left of pond. Landfill soil cover is partially visible on far side of pond and will be seeded with flowering native grasses later this year.

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.

Northwest tip of Alameda Point where Site 1 is located.  Waste burning area is here.  Trees have been removed.  Port of Oakland is in background.
Northwest tip of Alameda Point where Site 1 is located. Waste burning area is here. Trees have been removed. Metal retaining wall will go here.  Port of Oakland is in background.

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.

Building 5, also known as Naval Air Rework Facility (NARF), where additional radium-226 and groundwater cleanup is planned.  At the corner of West Tower Avenue and Monarch Street.
Building 5, also known as Naval Air Rework Facility (NARF), where additional radium-226 and groundwater cleanup is planned. At the corner of West Tower Avenue and Monarch Street.

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.

New culvert being installed connecting San Francisco Bay, which is to the right, and North Pond of the West Wetland at Alameda Point.  Navy photo taken 5/22/14.
New culvert being installed connecting San Francisco Bay, which is to the right, and North Pond of the West Wetland at Alameda Point. Navy photo taken 5/22/14.
New culvert being installed.  North Pond of West Wetland at Alameda Point in foreground, San Francisco Bay in background.  Navy photo.
New culvert being installed. North Pond of West Wetland at Alameda Point in foreground, San Francisco Bay in background. Navy photo.

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.

South Pond of West Wetland at Alameda Point.  Island in pond has become a nesting site for Caspian Terns.  Looking north toward Port of Oakland.
South Pond of West Wetland at Alameda Point. Island in pond has become a nesting site for Caspian Terns. Looking north toward Port of Oakland.

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.

This story appeared in the Alameda Sun:  Print edition front page and online edition.

Navy Environmental Tour Guide July 12, 2014 – Cleanup Fact Sheets

Navy Presentation Environmental Cleanup Program Review July 12, 2014 to Restoration Advisory Board

More photos and a map

Caspian Terns and chicks at West Wetland, Alameda Point.
Caspian Terns and chicks at West Wetland, Alameda Point.  Click on image to enlarge.
Trail on embankment at southwest corner of Alameda Point.  Looking south with San Francisco Bay to the right and ahead.  Additional trail to the right at riprap elevation.
Trail on embankment at southwest corner of Alameda Point. Looking south with San Francisco Bay to the right and ahead. Additional trail to the right at riprap elevation.
Concrete pad served as a base for conveyor that transferred soil from barge to land for the soil cover at Site 2.  Contractor left it in place and added a few amenities for future users of a place they had come to appreciate the beauty of as they worked here for a year.  Thank you, TetraTech.
Concrete pad served as a base for conveyor that transferred soil from barge to land for the soil cover at Site 2. Contractor left it in place and added a few amenities for future users of a place they had come to appreciate the beauty of as they worked here for a year. Thank you, TetraTech.
Dredging the northwest corner of the Seaplane Lagoon at Alameda Point in February 2012.  Tarmac dewatering, drying, and testing area behind black tarp is now being dismantled.  All dredging work is completed.
Dredging the northwest corner of the Seaplane Lagoon at Alameda Point in February 2012. Tarmac dewatering, drying, and testing area behind black tarp is now being dismantled. All dredging work is completed.

Previous stories about waste disposal areas: 

Scenic Alameda Point wildlife refuge section to be off limits with security fence (May 31, 2012)

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.

Navy receives comments on landfill/wetlands plans on Alameda Point wildlife refuge (July 15, 2012)

Ending threat of solvents in groundwater leaching into San Francisco Bay (August 31, 2012)

Cleanup plan changes at waste burning area (April 5, 2013)

Landscaping the Navy’s underground waste disposal site (June 4, 2013)

Massive landscaping project changing scenic area on Nature Reserve (August 5, 2013)

Landfill landscaping on Nature Reserve – Update October 2013 (October 26, 2013)

Ending threat of solvents in groundwater leaching into San Francisco Bay

Site 1 at the northwestern tip of Alameda Point was used as the principal disposal area for all waste generated at Naval Air Station-Alameda from 1943 to 1956.  This disposal area, which was once part of the Bay, was created by sinking pontoons and barges in the Bay and backfilling with dredge soil.

Disposal of cleaning solvents and petroleum products at one unlined pit within the landfill resulted in a groundwater plume that poses a threat of leaching into San Francisco Bay today.

In the 1990s the Navy installed an underground barrier system, called a funnel and gate permeable reactive barrier, to stem the flow of contaminants into the Bay.  It was not a permanent solution.  In July of this year the permanent solution began with the injection of neutralizing chemicals into the plume.

Protecting marine life

San Francisco Bay at Alameda Point western shoreline where threat of solvent leaching exists.

Most cleanup activities around the base are aimed at eliminating direct health risks to humans, such as from soil or from vapors that could enter a building.  In a few cases, the cleanup is focused first on direct impacts to marine life such as fish, which could in turn cause health problems for people who eat them.

The cleanup effort at the Site 1 plume is one of those cases.  This effort will keep toxins — solvents, petroleum products, and metals — from ever leaching into the Bay, being ingested by fish, and then consumed by humans.  The effort will also reduce unacceptable levels of vapors that are escaping directly above the plume.  The future use of the site will be restricted to open space recreational.

The process

July 2012 – Manifold system of hose lines that send oxidant chemicals to individual wells that go into the underground plume contamination area. Navy photo.

The chemical injection process, called In Situ Chemical Oxidation (ISCO), is accomplished by injecting oxidants (catalyzed hydrogen-peroxide and sodium persulfate) into the plume through injection wells.  “These oxidants produce short-lived reactions that directly destroy the targeted contaminants,” according to the Navy.  Groundwater tests will determine if further treatments are necessary.

Tanks of chemicals for neutralizing solvent plume. Shown as work area being set up in June 2012.

Treatments will continue until either the groundwater is clean enough, or the solvent and petroleum concentration has been reduced by 75%.  Once they get to 75% reduction, further injections are more or less a waste of money.  From then on, the contaminant concentration is low enough that the remainder will either degrade or disperse and dilute naturally without posing a risk to fish or humans.  This process is called natural attenuation and is often relied upon to finish the job when the bulk of contaminants are neutralized and treatment methods no longer yield effective results.

The groundwater plume is also contaminated with metals consisting of arsenic, copper, mercury, nickel, silver, and zinc.  The metals problem will, in theory, be taken care of when the solvents and petroleum products are eliminated.  This will cause the chemistry of the groundwater to change, which in turn will cause the metals to no longer remain dissolved in the water.  The metals will return to their solid state and remain where they are.  That’s the theory.

But to make sure it’s working, there will be a long-term groundwater monitoring program to make sure the metals aren’t moving.  If problems arise in the future, the Navy will have to come back and design a new remedy.  The Navy is responsible for the landfill’s contents staying in place in perpetuity.

Map of Site 1 disposal area with arrow from left indicating plume treatment area. Map also shows outlines of individual unlined pits that were used for disposal of waste. Half of the area is now covered by runway.

The Navy opted not to remove the landfill contents because of the $93 million price tag and because the risk of contaminant releases was deemed low.  A new set of environmental concerns associated with digging up and hauling away a landfill was also cited during the decision process.

The groundwater plume being treated is approximately 30 feet wide by 160 feet long, and it occurs mainly between depths of 5 and 10 feet below the ground surface.

Site 1 groundwater treatment work underway in July. San Francisco in background. Navy photo.

Delay on soil cover

All of 30-acre Site 1 will eventually be covered with soil and seeded with native grasses.  Work on the soil cover was delayed when the contractor discovered that the part of the landfill once used for burning waste was larger than expected.  The documentation has to go back through the review process, with a work plan for the soil cover hopefully prepared and ready to implement by 2014.