Vets: Time to build clinic, cemetery

Vets: Time to build clinic, cemetery

Michele Ellson

Members of the public offered their thoughts Thursday on a planned outpatient clinic and cemetery for veterans at Alameda Point, at a pair of hearings on a former aircraft carrier stationed in another corner of the former Navy base.

The comments, which were offered during hearings on the USS Hornet, will be considered as the Navy and the Department of Veterans Affairs finalize an environmental assessment that looks at the project’s potential noise, traffic, wildlife and other impacts.

Open space advocates have expressed concerns about the project’s impacts on a California Least Tern colony on the base and other wildlife that have taken up residence there, while others said they thought the public should have had more of a chance to weigh in on plans to move the facility onto property that had been slated to go to the city. But at Tuesday night’s hearing, a pair of veterans – one of whom was part of earlier efforts by the VA to get the project moving – said they’re ready to see the new facilities built.

“We wait patiently for the medical services we were promised when we went into the military, never realizing our wait for service would be longer than our tours of duty,” said Mark Raymond Chandler, who sits on the Alameda County Veterans Affairs Commission. “It’s time to stop dancing around environmental and bird habitat excuses and honor your commitment.”

Claude Hutchison, who was director of the VA’s office of asset enterprise management when the department conducted a 2008 outreach session on the USS Hornet, said the project would be a boon to the 70,000 veterans who live in Alameda County and should be built.

“Our veterans deserve nothing but the best. And we’ve been mucking around with this for 10 years,” Hutchison said. “Each (concern) has been heard. The VA bent over backwards to find optimal spot.”

The VA wants to build a 158,000-square-foot outpatient clinic and an 80-acre columbarium, which would come to include niches for the remains of 225,000 veterans over the next century. They’re hoping to have the land in-hand by the end of this year and the $210 million project up and running by 2017.

More than 500 acres would be left undeveloped and could be managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service if negotiations the VA is conducting with that agency reach a successful conclusion. The property includes a 9.7-acre California Least Tern colony that is one of the endangered bird’s biggest in California.

The VA had originally looked at taking 549 acres from the Navy but is now looking at a 624-acre project that moves its facilities farther away from the tern colony. A consultant said the VA and the Navy have been talking with the Fish and Wildlife Service about moving the project further from the tern colony since 2008.
The Navy and the VA worked on the environmental assessment for four years. The draft assessment says the project wouldn’t create significant traffic, noise or environmental impacts, and if those findings are finalized, the environmental study on the project will be considered complete. If significant impacts are found, a more in-depth study will be performed.

In their study, the Navy and the VA determined that a list of measures the Fish and Wildlife Service outlined in an August 2012 biological opinion could be used to blunt the project’s impacts on the tern. The study’s authors also looked at traffic, determining that other developments expected to be built in the coming years would ultimately be responsible for future traffic increases.

In addition to Thursday’s hearings, a third hearing has been scheduled for April 10 at the Albert H. DeWitt Officers Club, 641 West Redline Avenue, and comments are being accepted through April 19. In addition to attending the hearing, comments may be made in writing and submitted to Douglas Roaldson, Environmental Program Manager, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs/VISN 21, 201 Walnut Avenue, Room 1020, Mare Island, Calif. 94592-1107. Comments can also be faxed to (707) 562-8369 or e-mailed to Alameda.EA@va.gov.