Navy Issues Cleanup Plan for Point Waste Dump

The San Francisco skyline serves as backdrop for a network of wells that the Navy installed at Site 1. US Navy photo

The U.S. Navy recently published a draft of its work plan for 37-acre industrial waste dump on the northwest corner of Alameda Point. Installation Restoration Site 1 operated from 1943 to 1956 and contains tons of waste. These 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.

Site 1 had a firing range, seven large waste pits, and an area where the Navy incinerated combustible wastes by open burning. The Navy then pushed the resultant ash and other residue into San Francisco Bay to expand the airfield footprint.

As part of its cleanup the Navy removed the firing range berm, treated a solvent stream flowing toward San Francisco Bay and removed munitions debris and radium hot spots.

Now the Navy wants to close the site by capping it with a three-foot-thick soil cover. The Navy plans to dig up some of the contamination and place it under the soil cover. It would then seed this cover with native grasses to create a recreational area.

A 750-ft long waste-isolation bulkhead would protect the northern portion of the shoreline. The Navy would subject portions farther south and along the Oakland Estuary to "deep dynamic compaction" to help stabilize the bank. The Navy would cover portions of the compacted bank with riprap or concrete rubble.

The waste-isolation bulkhead consists of relatively thin (0.4 inch) interlocking sheets of zinc-coated steel whose wall and waste dump cover are designed to partially fail during a major quake.

Members of the Restoration Advisory Board (RAB) are concerned about the effects of liquefaction at the site. Artificial fill areas, such as Alameda Point, are particularly susceptible to liquefaction during major seismic events like the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake.

RAB members are concerned because the sheet-pile barrier would only last 50 or 100 years and the wastes in the old dump could remain dangerous for hundreds of years. The dump contains radium-229 that the Navy used to paint glow-in-the-dark instruments and other markers. Radium 229 has a half-life of 1,620 years.

RAB members wonder 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’s the city or the East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD). RAB members fear that these costs could reach $40 million or more. This figure does not take substantial public health and safety risks into account.

In addition the Navy has not included any provisions to prevent burrowing animals from digging through the dirt cover into the toxic materials below. The Navy included a rodent-protection barrier at a similar dump on the southwest corner of Alameda Point.

RAB has very limited power. Its members fear that federal and state regulators have already bought into the Navy’s closure plans through an agreement called a "Record of Decision."

RAB members invite readers to contact city and park district officials about the financial burdens taxpayers would bear if the city or EBRPD accepts ownership of this dumpsite.

Readers could also contact the Navy’s closure representative, Derek Robinson, 1465 Frazee Road, San Diego, CA 92108, (615) 532-0951 or email derek.j.robinson1@navy.mil. They can also attend RAB meetings and express their opinions. The next RAB meeting takes place at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, March 13, at 950 West Mall Square, City Hall West, suite 140.

George Humphries co-chairs the Restoration Advisory Board.