Navy Housing Site Safe to Transfer
The Navy recently decided that North Housing — a vacant residential area located between Alameda Point and Alameda Landing — is safe for transfer. The approval comes after the Navy stopped a program to clean groundwater at the site to drinking-water standards.
In 2013, the Navy turned off its air pump and carbon filter vacuum cleanup system to see if it made any difference in the concentrations or movement of contaminants. It didn’t.
However, before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would sign off on a permanent shutdown of the cleanup system, it wanted a new set of tests at ground level to ensure there is no risk of harmful vapors. The Navy conducted tests inside the vacant housing, in the crawl spaces, and under the parking lot and basketball courts at the former Island High School property. The negative results satisfied the EPA.
The original overly cautious risk assumption in the 2007 cleanup plan — that humans might somehow ingest the salty groundwater 10 to 20 feet below the surface — is now seen as implausible. The vapor extraction system covering a six-acre area of benzene and naphthalene-contaminated groundwater was dismantled last year after a new round of tests showed that there is no evidence of harmful vapors rising to the surface.
The Navy originally slated the property for transfer to the Coast Guard. But the Coast Guard decided in 2008 that it no longer wanted the parcel. The Navy and the city then worked out a plan that incorporates a federal requirement for homeless accommodation and a for-profit development.
The 22.7 acres slated for auction to a private developer will be tagged with utility infrastructure costs on the Housing Authority’s 13.6 acres and Habitat for Humanity’s 2.2 acres. Mosley Avenue will connect Alameda Landing and North Housing with 360 feet of new roadway.
In April the Navy amended its original 2007 cleanup plan, with regulatory agency concurrence. In doing so, the Navy cited new evidence along with city, county, and state regulations that prohibit intrusive activities and specifically prohibit well installation in the shallow groundwater where the contamination is located. The cleanup plan amendment stated that results of the evaluations of extensive data for this cleanup area “show that there is no unacceptable risk for current residential and school uses and any potential future land uses.”
The amended plan also cited new evidence that suggested the contaminants were part the marsh crust some 20 feet below ground level and essentially stuck there. The marsh crust is a layer of “hydrocarbon gunk” that the Oakland Gas Light Company’s coal gasification plant discharged onto Alameda’s marshlands from about 1880 to 1910. North Housing now sits on a part of that marshland.
The land was never cleaned up before being filled in for use as the San Francisco Aerodrome from 1930 to 1941. The marsh crust extends from the Oakland Estuary to Bayport and over to central Alameda Point. A city ordinance requires a permit before digging into the marsh crust to ensure safe handling.
The 37-acre North Housing area lies adjacent to the new Alameda Landing residential neighborhood. The site currently contains 51 residential structures with 282 three- and four-bedroom units constructed in 1969. With the possible exception of the two acres going to Habitat for Humanity, all the units will be demolished to make way for new construction.
The Housing Authority will build 90 units of supportive housing that will include a community center. Habitat for Humanity has not yet decided what it will do with its parcel. The private-developer area is currently zoned for 315 units of multifamily residential housing and may exceed that number if the density bonus is applied for.
The transfer of properties is expected in 2016. The auctioning of the for-profit North Housing Navy property will follow, but no firm timeline has been announced.