Unexpected Environmental Review of VA Project

The City of Alameda announced on February 22 that it will be preparing an environmental impact report (EIR) on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) project for a health clinic and columbarium cemetery at Alameda Point. The VA completed its environmental review for the project in 2013. The deadline for commenting on what the city should evaluate is March 22.

The belated environmental review was triggered by California regulations requiring a state EIR in order for the Regional Water Quality Control Board to approve the VA’s wetland mitigation plan.

An EIR is also required for City of Alameda approvals. “Although construction of federal facilities by federal agencies is typically exempt from local land use regulations and review,” said city planner Andrew Thomas, “in this case, the VA plans to construct an access utility/road on approximately 6-acres of city land to the east of the VA Transfer Parcel and two new storm drains across city-owned land to the north of the VA property, which will require approval of easements from the city, which are discretionary actions subject to CEQA [California Environmental Quality Act].”

Revisiting the project’s environmental impacts six years after the VA completed its review presents an opportunity to evaluate the potential environmental benefits of locating the medical clinic and benefits offices in the business “Enterprise District” rather than in the open space on the former airfield. Continue reading “Unexpected Environmental Review of VA Project”

Views of wetland cleanup area to be dug up, upgraded in 2019

The Navy will implement the environmental remediation plan for Site 32 on the western end of the former airfield.  The plan calls for covering the entire 60-acre site with three free of clean soil without raising the elevation of the existing wetlands.  Thus, the existing wetlands will be excavated to a depth of three feet, and then three feet of replacement clean soil will be brought in to re-contour the wetlands.

Most of the water in the accompanying photos, taken in March 2019, is from rainwater.  However, this wetland is also low enough in elevation that it receives water via tidal pressure from the Bay. Continue reading “Views of wetland cleanup area to be dug up, upgraded in 2019”

Navy to create new wetlands

The Navy is nearing completion of plans for a cleanup area called Site 32, 60 acres that lie on the old airfield west of where the monthly Antiques Faire is held.  The site requires remediation because investigators discovered radium-226 in the soil and on various objects.  The Navy mixed radium-226, a naturally occurring mineral, with paint to allow dials and markers to glow in the dark.  Repeated exposure to high levels of radium can cause cancer.

The Navy collected radium-impacted waste, such as used paint brushes from refurbishing dials and gauges, scraping solids, and rags, from its dial painting shop on a regular basis and discarded it at the Site 1 underground dump adjacent to Site 32.  The Navy presumes that the radium-impacted items were spread beyond the dump site when the runway was expanded in the 1950s and a bulldozer was used to grade the area above the dump. Continue reading “Navy to create new wetlands”

VA wetland study censored

The planned U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Alameda Point healthcare facility and columbarium will eliminate about 12 acres of existing wetland on the former Navy aircraft runway area.  The federal Clean Water Act requires that the VA compensate, or mitigate, for the adverse effects of their project.  But the proceedings have been cloaked in secrecy. 

“(b)5” is Exemption 5 in the Freedom of Information Act.

In February 2017, five months after submitting a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for information related to wetlands, the VA provided a copy of a consultant’s study on the feasibility of expanding and enhancing a different wetland on VA property.  But the document arrived with over half of the study either blacked out or stamped “Page withheld in its entirety.”

Continue reading “VA wetland study censored”

VA project adds to legacy of letdowns on airfield

A legacy of disappointment continues on the aircraft runway area at Alameda Point.  In the nearly 20 years since the Navy ended operations there, the community has lost 74 acres of open space that was once slated to become city property.  The community has also lost the possibility for a 550-acre national wildlife refuge and a state-of-the-art community hospital to be run jointly with Alameda Healthcare District to serve veterans and non-veterans. 

There is still no groundbreaking scheduled for the veterans’ clinic and columbarium.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) plans for outpatient clinic, medical and benefits offices, and a national cemetery at Alameda Point. San Francisco in background.
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) plans for outpatient clinic, medical and benefits offices, and a national cemetery at Alameda Point. San Francisco in background.

The only recent expenditures on the 624 acres of federal property, now owned by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), have been to fund landscaping over an underground dump and the management of the endangered least terns that nest on 10 acres, which includes the widespread application of herbicides and vegetation removal on 300 acres of pavement at the direction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

Mitigating the loss of wetlands appears to be the only planning underway. Continue reading “VA project adds to legacy of letdowns on airfield”

City leads tour across airfield to SF Bay shoreline

Around 50 people took part in the first city-sponsored tour across the old naval airfield to the western shoreline of San Francisco Bay on Monday, Oct. 26.

The convoy of automobiles stopped near the future site of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) clinic and at the shoreline next to a restored 30-acre wetland site. The wetlands are located within the Navy’s 100-acre cleanup site known as Site 2.  

Tour group at the western shoreline listening to Dr. Peter Russell explaining environmental cleanup work the Navy has completed at Site 2.
Tour group at the western shoreline listening to Dr. Peter Russell explaining environmental cleanup work the Navy has completed at Site 2.

While Site 2 has been known for the past 18 years as a mysterious off-limits environmental cleanup site, most of the visitors on Monday’s tour seemed more interested in the area as a scenic viewing site.

Despite the sparse showing of birds on the wetland during the visit, the group appeared awed by the vast expanse of land, water and sky that surrounded them as they stood on the embankment overlooking the wetland and the Bay.

View of the trail on embankment, with tour group and Port of Oakland in the background. Wetlands are to the right. San Francisco Bay is to the left.
View of the trail on embankment, with tour group and Port of Oakland in the background. Wetlands are to the right. San Francisco Bay is to the left.

A future leg of the San Francisco Bay Trail will eventually pass between the wetland and the shoreline, with views all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge on a clear day. The state’s Bay Conservation and Development Commission requires the VA, via its shoreline authority, to grant an easement to the city for construction and operation of the trail. No date has been set for when this process will begin.

During the stop near to the future VA clinic site, Jennifer Ott, the city’s chief operating officer for Alameda Point, informed the group about the public roadway, including underground utilities, that the VA is going construct leading to the western shoreline. The roadway will provide public access and utility hook-ups for city-owned open space property along the Oakland Estuary. The group parked at the western shoreline where the future observation point and trail access parking lot will be located at the end of the road.

Tour group listening to Jennifer Ott explaining plans of the US Dept. of Veterans Affairs while stopped next to future clinic site. San Francisco skyline in the background.
Tour group listening to Jennifer Ott explaining plans of the US Dept. of Veterans Affairs while stopped next to future clinic site. San Francisco skyline in the background.

The tour was arranged at the urging of Vice-Mayor Frank Matarrese. Also in attendance was Mayor Trish Spencer.

“The VA’s future home and the wetlands restoration area at Site 2 are key features of the old airfield surrounding the least tern nesting area,” said Matarrese.  “It is absolutely important that people get a chance to see how these three assets work together in this huge tract of land.”

Another view from the stop next to the future VA clinic site. Small wetland in between runways can be seen in the background. VA is expected to enhance the wetland, which remains covered with water in the middle of the airfield despite a drought.
Another view from the stop next to the future VA clinic site. Small wetland in between runways can be seen in the background. VA is expected to enhance the wetland, which remains covered with water in the middle of the airfield despite a drought.

The Navy still retains some responsibilities at Site 2 — namely, for ensuring that the grassland vegetation on the landfill soil cover is successful.

Jennifer Ott answering questions at the western shoreline. This location is where the VA's future road will end, with a small parking lot, benches, and access to the Bay Trail.
Jennifer Ott answering questions at the western shoreline. This location is where the VA’s future road will end, with a small parking lot, benches, and access to the Bay Trail.

“Seeing the wetlands makes me want to accelerate our wetlands efforts on city property,” said Matarrese.

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)