The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Navy jointly issued their final Environmental Assessment on November 18, 2013 for the VA’s proposed Alameda Point outpatient clinic, offices, and columbarium cemetery. The report found that the 112-acre project on the northern part of the former Naval Air Station airfield would cause no significant impacts to the environment. The environmental review culminates years of debate over the project’s potential impacts on the endangered California Least Terns that nest on the nearby runway, and paves the way for the Navy to transfer 624 acres of the airfield to the VA in 2014.
The VA began looking at the Alameda site in 2004 for expansion and consolidation of services from undersized and scattered facilities, which are currently leased by the VA until 2018. More than 9,000 veterans are enrolled in clinical services in the Oakland/Alameda area, with patient visits up 50% in the last five years. Approximately 543 veterans will be seen at the Alameda Point outpatient clinic each weekday and 70 on Saturday and Sunday. The VA anticipates employing a staff of 250, including 26 physicians and 34 nurses.
The VA will also establish a new national cemetery at Alameda Point. The two closest national cemeteries in San Bruno and San Francisco’s Presidio no longer accept new interments. Currently the closest burial options for Bay Area veterans are San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery in Santa Nella and Sacramento Valley National Cemetery in Dixon. The new columbarium cemetery will initially be 20 acres, with the remaining 60 acres built out in increments until completion in 2116. Approximately six services will take place Monday through Friday.
Traffic and Transportation
The VA and Navy evaluated seven intersections in Oakland and four in Alameda, as well as the Posey/Webster Tube and segments of I-880, for traffic impacts. The report noted that two Oakland intersections and the Atlantic/Webster intersection would be performing at unacceptable levels regardless of the VA project because of other Alameda Point development. The assessment states, “The minimal additional traffic resulting from the Proposed Action would not, cumulatively, make the already unacceptable intersections significantly worse.”
The VA plans to operate a 24-person shuttle bus service between Alameda Point and the 12th Street Oakland City Center BART station every half hour, seven days a week. Extending AC Transit bus line 31 to the clinic would provide additional service if the transit agency decides to add service.
Several acres of seasonal wetland will be impacted by the VA’s project and will need mitigation, either through on-site replacement or paying into a wetland mitigation bank. The VA has not reached agreement yet with the Regional Water Quality Control Board and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on a mitigation plan. However, the VA has stated that their preference is to “enhance and expand existing conditions” at the Runway Wetland on the southeast corner of the runway area. Plans will be finalized before issuance of any permits for the VA’s project.
Nature Reserve, Least Tern Management
Most of the VA’s runway area will remain undeveloped. Initial plans allowed for periodic emergency preparedness training on the undeveloped area. The new plans allow training exercises only in the VA’s developed area about every 14 months between mid-August and April 1 when the terns are gone.
The influence of years of lobbying by the Golden Gate Audubon Society and open space advocates for wildlife stewardship in the undeveloped area is reflected in the VA’s final report. The VA states, “The remainder of the 512 acres of the Transfer Parcel will remain as a preserve for the California Least Tern or open space, with no plan for development, and will be available to wildlife for future generations.”
The VA will construct a 2,500-square-foot Conservation Management Office (CMO) near the entrance to their property. The CMO will provide office space for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, meeting space for educational programs and volunteers, and public restrooms. The VA will fund the management of the Least Tern colony and the undeveloped area.
The winglike roof lines on the CMO and the main clinic/office building were inspired by the Least Tern colony and the site’s history as part of the Alameda Naval Air Station.
As part of their project, the VA will construct a pedestrian/bicycle/vehicle roadway along the northern border of their property all the way to a public viewpoint on the western shoreline. The roadway will include power, water, and sewer utilities that will be available for the city or a region-serving public park operator on the Northwest Territories to make connections to. The city will be granted a shoreline easement for constructing the Bay Trail. The VA will also be constructing a new north entryway to Alameda Point and laying oversized infrastructure, which the city can use, along Redline Avenue out to their site.
The VA plans to bring in over 400,000 cubic yards of clean fill material to raise the elevation of their site by as much as three feet, bringing the highest elevation to 13.5 feet above Mean Sea Level. Plans are based on a 2009 Bay Conservation and Development Commission sea level rise prediction of 16 inches by 2050 and 55 inches by 2099. The 18-month construction project is expected to begin by 2016 and be completed in 2017.
The VA is made up of three administrations: Veterans Health Administration, Veterans Benefits Administration, and National Cemetery Administration. All three will have offices at the Alameda Point VA.
The complete Environmental Assessment is on the VA website. A 30-day final public comment period began on November 18, 2013.