Letter to the Editor: Concerns about cleanup plan for former dump site

Letter to the Editor: Concerns about cleanup plan for former dump site

Letters to the Editor

A member of the board that oversees cleanup of toxics at Alameda Point has concerns about a dump site cleanup plan.

The Navy recently published a draft of its work plan for an old industrial waste dump that sits on the northwest corner of Alameda Point. The 37-acre site known as Installation Restoration Site 1 operated from 1943 to 1956 and contains tons of wastes dumped during the time it operated. These wastes included not only household wastes, but solvents, unexploded ordnance, flattened drums, engines, aircraft parts, heavy metals, radium and other radioactive wastes discarded from the Navy’s industrial aircraft repair operations. The site includes a firing range, seven large waste pits, and an area where combustible wastes were incinerated by open burning. Ash and other residues were pushed into the bay to expand the airfield footprint.

Cleanup already done includes removal of the firing range berm, treatment of a solvent stream that was flowing toward the bay, removal of munitions debris and radium hot spots from the land surface.

Now the Navy wants to close the site by capping it with a three-foot-thick soil cover. Some contamination found along the beach areas and contaminated soil near the bay shoreline would be dug up, moved back and placed under the soil cover. The cover would be seeded with native grasses and turned into an open space recreational area.

A 750-foot-long sheet pile wall called a waste isolation bulkhead (“WIB”) would protect the northern portion of the shoreline. Other portions of the shore farther south and along the estuary would be subjected to deep dynamic compaction to help stabilized the bank. Portions of the compacted bank would be covered by riprap or concrete rubble.

Concerns have been voiced by some members of the Restoration Advisory Board regarding the durability of the Navy’s proposed closure. The concerns include the effects of liquefaction on the perimeter containment and the soil surface. Artificial fill areas, such as Alameda Point, are particularly susceptible to liquefaction during major seismic events like the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Essentially, the soil can turn into something akin to quicksand when the shaking causes sand particles to become lubricated with a film of water. Pressures can build up underground and cause water to spurt to the surface, carrying with it sand and contaminated material.

The WIB consists of relatively thin (0.4 inch) interlocking sheets of zinc-coated steel. The wall and waste dump cover are designed to partially fail during a major quake. The wall could slide sideways as a complete unit some 15 to 20 feet toward the bay, the surface would slump more than one foot, and surface cracks would open up several inches wide and several feet deep. But what happens if one section of the WIB slides sideways and adjacent sections stay in place?

Sand volcanoes could bring contaminated liquids and solids to the surface. This is not fantasy. It is documented that liquefaction and sand volcanoes occurred at this very site during the Loma Prieta earthquake.

Members of the board are concerned because the sheet-pile barrier will only last 50 or 100 years and the wastes in the old dump could remain dangerous for hundreds of years. Radium-229, the radioisotope used by the Navy to paint glow-in-the-dark instruments and other markers, has a half-life of 1,620 years.

Who will bear the costs of repairing the steel wall and landfill cover after a major seismic event? The Navy plans to shift the future financial burden to the new owner, whether that is the city or the East Bay Regional Park District. These costs could reach $40 million or more, with meager revenues coming in from the planned open space nature preserve. There are also substantial public health and safety risks presented by the closure scheme.

The Navy has not included any provisions to prevent burrowing animals from digging through the dirt cover into the toxic materials below. At a similar dump on the southwest corner of the Point, the Navy’s closure included a rodent-protection barrier, consisting of a rigid plastic grid to keep rodents and critters from digging into the wastes and opening up pathways to the surface. Why weren’t the two sites handled in a similar manner? With no rodent barrier at Site 1, the park operators will likely have to resort to poisons to control the rodent populations. This poses a real danger to hawks, owls and scavengers that might eat the dead or sick rodents.

Coincidentally, a February 19 article in the San Francisco Chronicle, “Park squirrels, gophers have to go,” highlights problems at the former Berkeley landfill caused by squirrels and gophers digging into the closed landfill. The Regional Water Quality Control Board is mandating that they be eliminated (or, as someone in the article suggests, “move them somewhere else, like Alameda”).

The Restoration Advisory Board has very limited power, as it can only offer comments and opinions. Our meetings are sparsely attended by the public. Further, federal and state regulators have already bought off on the Navy’s closures plans through an agreement called a “Record of Decision.”

Five years ago, the Alameda Reuse and Redevelopment Authority (comprised of City Council members) took the position that the wastes at Site 1 should be dug up and hauled away to a more suitable, better-managed location. That advice was outweighed by cost considerations and the dangers to workers engaged in excavations activities. It is unknown what the present City Council’s position is; it may be ready to take ownership.

What can you do as a citizen? Warn the city and park district officials about the financial burdens they’ll be taking on if they accept ownership of the dump site. Communicate with your elected representatives. Contact the Navy’s closure representative, Mr. Derek Robinson, BRAC Environmental Coordinator, 1465 Frazee Road, San Diego, Calif. 92108, (615) 532-0951 or e-mail derek.j.robinson1@navy.mil. Attend our board’s meetings and express your opinions. The next Restoration Advisory Board meeting begins 6:30 p.m. March 13 at City Hall West, 950 West Mall Square, Suite 140, Alameda Point.

George Humphreys
Co-chair, Restoration Advisory Board


Richard Bangert's picture
Submitted by Richard Bangert on Thu, Feb 27, 2014

When cleanup work at Alameda Point is completed, the only prominent visible reminder of a decade-and-a-half of cleanup will be the steel retaining wall at the entrance to the Oakland Estuary. ("What's that?" "It's where the toxic waste is buried." Wonderful conversation starter for visitors.)

The leave-in-place plan that was accepted by regulators many years ago did not include the steel retaining wall. That retaining wall was added in the past year or so after further testing showed toxics from bulldozing burn waste ended up under the edge of the Bay. Digging it up was an option, but that was rejected for cost reasons. Now we will have to live with a shoreline scar forever and, as George Humphries has pointed out, no funding plan for maintaining the retaining wall.

To see what this retaining wall will look like, go to this story on the Environmental Report:
http://alamedapointenvironmentalreport.wordpress.com/2013/04/05/cleanup-... There is a photo of another shoreline retaining wall project. Alameda Point's retaining wall will be exactly the same.

It's unfortunate that the extra money is not being spent to avoid this maintenance issue and eyesore. Elsewhere at Alameda Point, many millions of dollars have been ponied up by the Navy for cost overruns. There's money in Washington, DC for virtually anything if there is political will. Unfortunately, the community isn't fully aware of what is about to happen at the tip of Alameda Point.