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Point cleanup battles continue

Submitted by on 1, September 30, 2008 – 7:45 amNo Comment

The citizen board in charge of overseeing the cleanup of Alameda Point has a few bones to pick with the Navy over its proposed plan for clearing the old landfill in the northwest corner of the old base.

Okay. Let’s see if we can get this straight.

The Restoration Advisory Board and the City Council (sitting as the Alameda Reuse and Redevelopment Authority) were worried about the Navy’s original plan to cover the old landfill site with a few feet of dirt and call it a day, because they didn’t know what, precisely, was in the ground there and whether it might seep into the Bay if the ground eroded or if there was an earthquake (did we mention this landfill was built right on the Bay?). Specifically, they were worried that there might be drums filled with waste in the ground. So about a year ago, the Navy hired a contractor to check it out.

Guess what they didn’t find? Waste drums, or any of the household waste that you’d expect to be in a landfill. But the surprises didn’t end there. Even though they said they weren’t going to try to figure out what kind of contamination might exist out there, the Navy checked the soil for radioactivity. And guess what they did find: Soil that had as much as 12 and 13 times the normal background level of radiological material. (The landfill waste, they’re now guessing, was trucked to another spot on the base when the runways were built out there.)

The soil the Navy’s contractor dug up – speculation is that it was contaminated by radium painted onto aircraft dials – was trucked off to special dumps in Texas and Utah. But under its current designs for the site, according to this report drafted by a consultant for the city, the Navy wants to dig up what it left behind, dump and cover it up about 200 feet from the shoreline. (They’ve even thoughtfully included a rock-and-plastic rodent barrier to protect the rats and ground squirrels who might dig around out there. Awwwww.)

Now, the folks at the RAB have some concerns about this proposal. They’re still worried about earthquake effects – most notably, sand boils that could shoot toxic soil up to the surface when the ground liquefies. They’re also concerned about global warming, which over the next century could cause a good portion of the base to flood. And then there’s developer SunCal’s initial proposal to turn the site back into Bay wetlands. (Can’t wait to take the kids and the dog out there!)

The RAB wants the Navy to try to figure out what’s there before it decides on a cleanup plan for the site. The council, meanwhile, has said it would really like to see the Navy truck the rest of the soil off site. The Navy has approved $20 million for the cleanup; the council at one point estimated cleaning up the old landfill site could cost as much as $92 million.

According to the consultant’s report, the Navy has said that since it stopped using the landfill a good 20 years before regulations governing military landfill cleanups were put in place, it’s not bound by rules requiring a more thorough cleanup. They’re slated to have a draft cleanup plan for the landfill site by the end of October.

The council, sitting as the ARRA, will talk about this at its meeting Wednesday night at City Hall. The meeting starts at 7. Incidentally, the report about what the Navy dug up out there is here.

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