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Navy Proposes Cheaper Cleanup Plan for Contaminated Site at Alameda Point

Roughly a dozen people turned out for a U.S. Navy sponsored meeting regarding remediation for Site 1, including the former burn area, at Alameda Point. (Action Alameda News)

Roughly a dozen people turned out for a U.S. Navy sponsored meeting regarding remediation for Site 1, including the former burn area, at Alameda Point. (Action Alameda News)

About twelve people showed up at the Alameda Free Library late yesterday to hear U.S. Navy representatives outline a modified remediation plan for a 37 acre piece of land at Alameda Point, known as Site 1, host to a number of toxic chemicals and radiological elements including Radium-226 and Uranium-238+D.

The navy is trying to get buy-in on a cheaper remediation effort for the site, which is roughly 37 acres in size, and is located at the northwestern tip of Alameda Point, which used to be Naval Air Station Alameda. The site was used by the navy to dispose of waste, aircraft parts and petroleum. Within Site 1 is the so-called ‘burn area’, approximately 4 acres of fill that was created as the navy burned industrial waste and construction demolition debris and pushed the residue into the Bay with a bulldozer.

According to a navy circular, cadmium, zinc, lead and radium-226 appear to be widespread across the burn area, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), pesticide, cesium-137 and cobalt-60 occur in localized areas and depths.

During site characterization efforts in 2010, the navy determined that the burn area extended further north and south than previously understood.

A previous remediation plan called for the expenditure of $40 million and involved the excavation and off-site disposal of soil from the burn area, screening of excavated soil for radiological materials, and sweeping the excavation for un-exploded ordnance.

Now, the navy is proposing a $13 million plan that would excavate and remove less material, but install a waste isolation bulkhead between the burn area and the shoreline. (A similar approach was used at the 102nd Street Chemical Landfill on the Niagara River, in Niagara Falls, New York, a site just south of the former Love Canal neighborhood.)

Two-dimensional model showing proposed location of waste isolation bulkhead at the northwestern tip of Alameda Point. (Action Alameda News)

Two-dimensional model showing proposed location of waste isolation bulkhead at the northwestern tip of Alameda Point. (Action Alameda News)


The navy is proposing to excavate all burnt waste in the burn area that resides outside of the semi-circular isolation bulkhead, and perform a surface scan and remove radiological material to a depth of one foot. The navy would also construct a soil cover to prevent contact with any buried debris, contaminated soils and radiological sources not excavated.

Yesterday’s meeting came on the same day that the City of Alameda trumpeted in a press release that the navy has received an additional $10 million in federal funds for clean-up of the former base.

“This is great news. More money means that the navy will clean-up and transfer all phases of the Alameda Point property to the City faster,” said City Manager John Russo. “The City, in turn, will be able to achieve its economic development goals faster.”

One meeting attendee, Francis McIlveen, scoffed at the amount. “It’s a drop in the bucket,” he said, compared to the Department of the Navy’s annual budget, roughly $170 billion in the current fiscal year.

The navy says it has spent over $500 million on Alameda Point clean-up to date. Mixing branches of the U.S. military, Mr. McIlveen questioned defense spending priorities, and compared the amount spent to date to the cost of acquiring new military planes, saying, “One and one-half [Air Force] B-1 bombers is more important than our community.”

McIlveen is a father who lives in Alameda not far from Alameda Point, and works in housing and redevelopment for a community land trust. He’s concerned that the navy’s new remediation plan for the burn area and the bigger site doesn’t go far enough. Alarm bells went off for McIlveen when he learned of the drastic reduction in expenditures on clean-up of the site. “This is like sweeping it under the rug,” he said.

He’s frustrated that the City of Alameda officials are apparently looking at the former base with dollar signs in their eyes, saying, “‘We’re going to get this free land, and do a massive amount of development, or something that’s going to generate tax revenue.’ It sounds like there’s this rush to basically ignore the unacceptable level of clean-up that’s going on out there.”

He’s also worried that the remediation plan doesn’t take into account rising sea levels due to climate change, and long-term climate issues such as 200-year floods that might completely submerge the remediated area under water, and spread toxic and radiological materials into the bay and into residential and commercial areas.

McIlveen says that the navy took a snapshot of just 77 days of tidal fluctuations and concluded that the risk for the next 1,000 years was negligible enough not to excavate and remove toxic wastes.

Three dimensional model showing how the proposed waste isolation bulkhead would be installed at Alameda Point. (Action Alameda News.)

Three dimensional model showing how the proposed waste isolation bulkhead would be installed at Alameda Point. (Action Alameda News.)


Former Naval Air Station Alameda Restoration Advisory Board member George Humpreys expressed a similar concern, asking pointed questions about whether the navy had plans and funding to maintain the remediation controls and the bulkhead for the next 1,600 years, the half-life of Radium-226.

“Once the city takes full ownership of the property, once it’s conveyed, once responsibility is conveyed, then we, the residents there, we are at risk of exposure from anything that happens on that site, the excavations, the construction, not to mention what happens to the ground and bay water. It’s not going to stay on that tip of the island,” McIlveen said. “My kids want to play in the Bay, and they want to go in that water, and I don’t want them to be exposed to stuff that’s going to affect them down the road. It shocks me that more people aren’t concerned about it. It’s one of the biggest superfund sites, certainly in the Bay area.”

The navy has extended its public comment period on the proposed remediation to April 24th, 2013.

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