Alameda may acquire portion of tidal canal

Alameda may acquire portion of tidal canal

Michele Ellson
Oakland Inner Harbor Tidal Canal

A portion of the Oakland Inner Harbor Tidal Canal. Photo by Michele Ellson.

City officials are considering whether to accept part of a waterway separating Oakland from the Island’s East End that the federal government has long sought to hand off.

The City Council is expected to receive information about the potential transfer of half of the Oakland Inner Harbor Tidal Canal on Tuesday. The presentation is being billed as a fresh kickoff of efforts to effect a transfer, and a decision isn’t on the table Tuesday.

“We’re hoping we can sort out a path. And then it’s up to the council to decide,” City Attorney Janet Kern said during an interview this week.

The 1.8-mile-long, 400-foot wide channel and shore, which lines Alameda’s eastern shore from the Fruitvale Bridge to San Leandro Bay, was constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers between 1875 and 1902 in order to create tidal action that would naturally clean and dredge the estuary. But budget cuts and a desire to cut costs prompted the Corps to seek to unload it, Kern said; a 1990 federal law permitted transfer of the canal to other public agencies.

Kern and Assistant City Attorney Andrico Q. Penick, said Alameda’s interest in accepting its half of the waterway and shoreline has waxed and waned over the years. They said the Army Corps has recently shown a renewed interest in reaching a deal, prompting city staff to take a fresh look at whether a deal can be struck.

The East Bay Regional Park District expressed interest in acquiring the Oakland side of the canal in 2013, according to a city staff report to be presented to the council on Tuesday. A park district spokeswoman said the district wants to extend the Bay Trail along the estuary.

“It’s a beautiful place to walk, bike or kayak, but currently there’s some significant gaps in trail access,” park district spokeswoman Carol Johnson said. “We’ve been discussing this with a number of agencies, including the city and Army Corps, for some time and remain optimistic that we can deliver the shoreline access that the public desires.”

The Corps did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

The Island’s real estate professionals and property owners have long prevailed on the city to accept the property, Kern said, to promote maintenance of docks and other structures on the Army Corps’ property and avoid disputes that can arise when homebuyers discover they don’t own the land that sits right on the water or docks in the water. Some 90 homeowners and 14 businesses sit adjacent to the canal.

Docks and other structures have been falling apart over the past decade, Kern and Penick said, due to a 2000 Army Corps moratorium on building or maintaining structures on the canal (a Corps presentation from 2009 available online lists a moratorium on permits as a challenge affecting a potential transfer). Either way, the city can’t enforce its zoning and building rules on property owned by other government agencies, they said - to the frustration of homeowners.

Penick said that if the city does accept the canal property, it would seek to immediately transfer land that borders homes on the canal to homeowners; property that homeowners don’t purchase could be purchased by the Waterfront Homeowners Association (the association’s president did not respond to requests for comment).

Penick said the city plans to talk to business owners to gauge their interest in leasing canal-front property adjacent to their businesses. He said some have leases with the Army Corps that have lapsed, while others have appropriated the property without signing a lease. The presentation says the Corps has active real estate documents on just three percent of the properties along the canal, and regulatory permits on 10 to 15 percent of the properties.

But accepting the property would present some challenges, too, said Penick, who said he’s got more due diligence to do. Some of the shoreline is contaminated, he said, and the city wants to make sure that it won’t face a costly cleanup enforcement action if it accepts a portion of the canal. The city also has a host of transfer issues to sort out before moving forward, including the value of the land to be transferred to homeowners and a grace period that provides time to make repairs to dilapidated docks.

“We want to make sure the City Council has all the facts before they make a decision,” Kern said. “We also want to make sure the homeowners know what they’re getting.”

The meeting begins at 7 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, and will be broadcast live on Comcast cable channel 15, AT&T cable channel 99 and webcast live on the city’s website.


Submitted by Richard Hausman (not verified) on Fri, Apr 3, 2015

Council and Staff should also consider the potential cost of dredging the Canal, which now falls on the Corps. Also, the BCDC will have their say as to any building/re-building on the land that borders the homes. Ultimately, the question is why the City would want to take it off the hands of the Corps (which has been discussed for years). Is this all just to enforce its zoning and building rules?

Submitted by David Foote (not verified) on Sat, Apr 4, 2015

Pure insanity! Why in heaven's name would the city of Alameda want to accept responsibility for a federally navigable waterway from the federal government? It is purely and simply a federal responsibility. Will the taxpayers of Alameda become responsible for dredging, maintenance, liabilities, environmental clean-up, salvage of countless sunken boats, or upkeep of derelict structures such as the Fruitvale railroad bridge, one of my favorite money grubbing white elephants that should have been torn down and the metals salvaged decades ago? Alamedans take heed and avoid this like the plague!!

Submitted by frank on Mon, Apr 6, 2015

Last train over the Fruitvale Bridge was mid-2000.

Submitted by Michael gorman (not verified) on Wed, Apr 8, 2015

Talks with the Corp of Engineers to date indicate the Cprps is willing to retain responsibility for the railroad bridge If opem water is transferred to the city or EBRP the Corp retains the responsibility for dredging and maintenance of the navigable. waterway. Dredging unlikely to ever be needed as the water way is self flushing. The reason it was initially created I have been on the waterway for 65 years and there has never been a need to dredge it.