Regional park district and city negotiate land deal for park

On July 28, representatives of the city and the East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD), along with members of the public, toured the future site of a regional park on the former Navy runway area at Alameda Point.  The 158-acre area runs along the Oakland Estuary out to the western shoreline with its sweeping views of San Francisco Bay out to the Golden Gate Bridge.

View from the proposed regional park on May 11, 2017, during Restoration Advisory Board tour.

Bob Nisbet, assistant general manager of EBRPD, and Jennifer Ott, base reuse manager for the city, explained that the city and park district are working on a joint agreement called a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that will allow EBRPD to build and operate the park.  The land is being transferred from the Navy to the city in phases as environmental remediation is completed.  Following the final land transfer in about four years, the city would then lease the land to EBRPD for 66 years, the maximum allowable under state law for tidelands along state waterways. Continue reading “Regional park district and city negotiate land deal for park”

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)

Wetland park plan at Seaplane Lagoon gets a boost

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.

Sierra Club in Alameda's 4th of July Parade 2014
Sierra Club in Alameda’s 4th of July Parade 2014

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”

Landfill landscaping on Nature Reserve – Update October 2013

Landscaping of the 100-acre landfill area on the southwest corner of Alameda Point is nearing completion.  The seeding of the landfill site with flowering native grasses is almost ready to begin.  Contouring of the site is complete.  Stabilization of the shoulder around the wetland area is complete.  Placement of the final soil cover is underway.

Site 2 wetland area and adjacent contouring underway in early July 2013.  Wetland area has since been expanded by several acres.  Port of Oakland is in the background.  Bay Trail will eventually follow the foreground shoreline along the Bay.  Funding and construction of the Bay Trail is not part of this project, and is yet to be funded.
Site 2 wetland area and adjacent contouring underway in early July 2013. Wetland area has since been expanded by several acres. Port of Oakland is in the background. Bay Trail will eventually follow the foreground shoreline along the Bay. Funding and construction of the Bay Trail is not part of this project, and is yet to be funded.

The contouring of this industrial landfill site was completed on August 16, 2013.  Approximately one-third of the contouring, or base layer, soil is clean soil recycled from Seaplane Lagoon dredging.  The recycled soil stock was quickly exhausted, along with soil recycled after removing some of the berms and high areas.  More than half of the base layer – 193,000 cubic yards – is soil barged in from Decker Island in the Sacramento River. 

Soil being delivered from Decker Island.
Soil being delivered from Decker Island.

This contouring phase, which began in January of 2013, created the base layer with a specially-engineered slope.  It was then scanned for radiation using scanners towed by a small vehicle, even though the site had been surveyed for radiation prior to placing the base layer.

Scanning the base layer for radiation.
Scanning the base layer for radiation.

Placement of the plastic biobarrier (see photo below) and the final soil cover using soil barged in from Decker Island began on August 19, 2013.  The biobarrier is a plastic mesh that is designed to discourage burrowing animals from coming into contact with the waste area.  The biobarrier installation is over 90% complete as of week #38 (October 24, 2013).  The final two-foot soil cover is over 60% complete.  The final soil cover includes six inches of soil amended to promote growth of vegetation. 

The soil stabilization and drainage work on the shoulder around the wetland area is also completed.  It includes native rye grass seeding, a jute mesh cover, and a silt fence.  Some of the rye grass has already started to sprout.

Stormwater controls near wetland area being created.
Stormwater controls near wetland area being created.

New monitoring wells will be installed starting in late November. 

Hydroseeding of the site with an assortment of California native grasses will begin in late November or early December. 

In 2014 the old culvert connecting the north side of the wetland with San Francisco Bay will be replaced with a new culvert.

Fifty tons of old fence and metal have been recycled.  The temporary work fence will be removed at the end of the job.  The methane gas vents will be short and virtually unnoticeable (see photo below).  Due to the age of the landfill and the fact that very little organic waste was deposited there, the methane gas produced is minor and will not require the 10-foot tall vent stacks proposed in an earlier workplan.

Methane gas vent pipes.
Methane gas vent pipes.

This site, along with adjacent land, will be transferred to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in late 2013 or early 2014.

VA map, with Site 2 and Nature Reserve notations added by Alameda Point Environmental Report.
VA map, with Site 2 and Nature Reserve notations added by Alameda Point Environmental Report.
Biobarrier to discourage burrowing animals.  Photo credit:  Alameda Point Environmental Report.
Biobarrier to discourage burrowing animals. Photo credit: Alameda Point Environmental Report.

Interim stormwater controls - tracked slope.

Silt fence installed above jute mesh around wetland area.
Silt fence installed above jute mesh around wetland area.
Silt fence under construction.
Silt fence under construction.
Jute mesh around wetland should, with grass starting to sprout.
Jute mesh around wetland shoulder, with grass starting to sprout.
Week 36 - Vegetation growing through jute mesh around shoulder of wetland area.
Week 36 – Vegetation growing through jute mesh around shoulder of wetland area.

Source:   The information in this update was gathered from the weekly progress reports for Installation Restoration Site 2 Remedial Action at Alameda Point.  The progress reports are posted on the Envirostor website maintained by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC).  The source for all photos in this update, unless otherwise credited, is DTSC.

Waterfront plan for Seaplane Lagoon sees value in nature

Returning part of the Seaplane Lagoon shoreline to nature is one of the biggest changes that have emerged in the planning process at Alameda Point.  The design proposal for the western side of the Seaplane Lagoon echoes the major theme of the Greenspace Project of Golden Gate University’s Center on Urban Environmental Law – the interconnected ecosystem. 

Seaplane Lagoon green areas (proposed)
From Town Center and Waterfront Precise Plan presentation to Planning Board.
(click on map image to enlarge)

The draft Town Center and Waterfront Precise Plan for the Seaplane Lagoon and eastern entrance area, presented to the Planning Board on August 21, offers a number of new concepts, including moving the proposed marina from the west side of the lagoon to the east side.   The waterfront plan is being refined concurrently with zoning changes, an environmental impact report, and a master infrastructure plan, which are all aimed at providing the level of detail necessary for the city to start marketing property to investors in 2014.

In reporting to the Planning Board on design plans of the city’s consultant, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM), city staff stated:  “Due to the vast scale of the study area and the Seaplane Lagoon as its centerpiece, the Town Center will be able to support a wide variety of unique waterfront experiences—some of which build and expand upon existing assets and activities, some of which introduce entirely new opportunities.  SOM proposes the following four waterfront zones and experiences:

1. Natural environment—along the western edge of the Seaplane Lagoon with trails, docks, camping, outdoor sculpture and wetlands.

2. Promenade and recreational opportunities—along the northern edge, with early phased soccer fields, food concessions, bike and pedestrian paths, open lawn, and kayak access.

3. Urban edge—along the eastern side and portions of northern edge with marinas, docks, eating patios, overlooks, and ferry service.

4. Industrial—further south on the eastern side with maritime uses located near the MARAD ships and the USS Hornet.”

Seaplane Lagoon western edge
From Town Center and Waterfront Precise Plan presentation to Planning Board.

Climate adaptation grant funding needed – As currently envisioned, however, the de-paving, removal of buildings, and alteration of the western Seaplane Lagoon shoreline area is put off into the distant Phase 3 future — a decade or more from now — when presumably a surplus of infrastructure funds will allow for implementation.  One option available for timelier implementation would be to begin now seeking grant funding from agencies that focus on shoreline climate change adaptation.  There will be no commercial development on the western side of the lagoon, and therefore the project would become a public asset.

Lying directly to the west on the Nature Reserve is the Runway Wetland, whose habitat value would be greatly enhanced by a connection to the Seaplane Lagoon.  Additionally, the draft Master Infrastructure Plan predicts a $10 million savings if the area were allowed to become tidal wetland as sea level rises.

Eastern jetty of Seaplane Lagoon with Great Blue Herons with nest and landing gull.  Heron is directly above proposed tidal marsh featured on map above.  West shore of Seaplane Lagoon in background.
Great Blue Herons with nest (left) and gulls on eastern jetty of Seaplane Lagoon. Heron is directly above proposed tidal marsh featured on map above. West shore of Seaplane Lagoon in background.
Great Blue Heron standing in shallow Seaplane Lagoon area where tidal marsh is proposed.
Great Blue Heron standing in shallow Seaplane Lagoon area where tidal marsh is proposed.
Sea Lion catching fish in Seaplane Lagoon.  Floating haul out platforms would increase their presence.
Sea Lion catching fish in Seaplane Lagoon. Floating haul out platforms would increase their presence.
Black-crowned Night Heron poking around for food on eastern jetty of Seaplane Lagoon.  One of the regular but seldom seen wildlife visitors.
Black-crowned Night Heron poking around for food on eastern jetty of Seaplane Lagoon. One of the regular but seldom seen wildlife visitors.
Alameda Point Channel in foreground that connects San Francisco Bay to the Seaplane Lagoon.
Alameda Point Channel in foreground that connects San Francisco Bay to the Seaplane Lagoon.

Unless otherwise noted, all photos are copyright Richard Bangert.  Permission requests appreciated before reproducing.  See “About” page for contact info.

Landscaping the Navy’s underground waste disposal site

Thirty-five years after the Navy stopped disposing of toxic waste in unlined pits next to San Francisco Bay on Alameda Point’s southwest shoreline, the final actions to comply with state and federal laws are finally being implemented this year. 

Site 2 where industrial waste is buried.  Area up to the wetland will be covered with two feet of additional soil.
Site 2 where industrial waste is buried. Area up to the wetland will be covered with two feet of additional soil.

Decades of wrangling between the Navy and regulatory agencies over how to handle the West Beach Landfill, dubbed Site 2, were finally ironed out this spring.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Regional Water Quality Control Board (Water Board), and the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) have agreed to a plan that calls for leaving the estimated 1.6 million tons of industrial waste in place and adding more soil to the existing soil cover.  

Placement of soil cover at Site 2 - May 2013.  US Navy Photo.
Placement of soil cover at Site 2 – May 2013. US Navy Photo.

The Navy began dumping waste in the area in 1952, four years before they surrounded the area with a seawall.  The dump was closed in 1978, but early efforts to comply with state environmental laws for landfill closure were not to the satisfaction of the Water Board.

In its May 2012 draft engineering work plan for the landfill, the Navy cited a decade of groundwater monitoring along the shoreline that proved the toxic chemicals of concern are not migrating toward the Bay.  Instead, the chemical concentrations are either stable or declining.  The contents have been sitting in water-saturated subsurface soil since the disposal program began 60 years ago. 

Radiological hotspots of debris and soil, including a small storage building, were removed after an earlier scan of Site 2.  Before the current two feet of clean soil is put in place, the soil will again be scanned down to a depth of one foot, and elevated concentrations will be removed.  Radium-226 paint waste was disposed of in the landfill.

One of the major concerns about leaving this landfill in place is the consequence of a major earthquake.  The Navy responded to a comment from a DTSC engineer by acknowledging that in the event of a maximum credible earthquake, the riprap boulders forming the “seawall is conservatively assumed to be non-existent, instantaneously whisked away and replaced with a 25-foot vertical face of liquefiable sand subject to plastic flow without being constrained by a rigid shell (sea wall).”  The Navy’s earthquake model predicts that the earthen embankment above the seawall at the perimeter of the landfill, composed of clay and not sand, will glide into the Bay and “will not be overtopped by the waters of San Francisco Bay and freeboard of about 5 feet above mean sea level will remain, and so the refuse will remain isolated.”

Navy graphic showing predicted movement of embankment berm into San Francisco Bay during an earthquake.
Navy graphic showing predicted movement of embankment berm into San Francisco Bay during an earthquake. Click on image to enlarge.
Navy graphic depicting position of embankment berm at Bay shoreline a following catastrophic earthquake.
Navy graphic depicting position of embankment berm at Bay shoreline following a catastrophic earthquake. Click on image to enlarge.
Southwestern shoreline of Alameda Point at Site 2 landfill.  Rock/cement riprap seawall, with green embankment berm above.  Looking north toward Port of Oakland.
Southwestern shoreline of Alameda Point at Site 2 landfill. Rock/cement riprap seawall, with green embankment berm above. Looking north toward Port of Oakland.

The Navy removed a perimeter security fence from their plans following objections from regulators and the public.  “Navy’s design and [Superfund] requirements for this project do not preclude future use of the site for limited public access or passive recreational purposes,” said the Navy.  Simple “Habitat Restoration Project” and “Stay on trail” signs were deemed adequate.

In an unusual move, the Navy offered the Restoration Advisory Board the opportunity to select the new vegetation that will anchor the 60 acres of clean soil.  In the fall of 2013, the Navy will seed the new soil with 13 native grasses, most of them flowering.  The Navy has permanently removed the 12-foot high embankment on the eastern, inland side of the landfill site, which will make the grassland visible from the mixed-use area.

The 30-acre wetland area on Site 2 was not contaminated, but will receive improvements to the quality of several acres.  The culvert connecting the wetland to San Francisco Bay will be regularly inspected and permanently protected.

Final Remedial Action Work Plan for Site 2 – Alameda Point – April 2013