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Coast Guard drops plan to curtail drawbridge staffing

Submitted by on 1, January 27, 2011 – 12:02 am3 Comments

The U.S. Coast Guard announced Wednesday that it is withdrawing a plan to eliminate nighttime supervision of Alameda’s drawbridges in response to an outcry over the impact the proposed change would have on safety and on businesses that sit on the estuary.

“The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is withdrawn due to comments received in opposition and the potential negative impacts to navigation and the surrounding community. We have determined the regulation change, as proposed, would not meet the reasonable needs of navigation on the waterway,” a notice published in the Federal Register on Wednesday said.

Alameda County, which operates the drawbridges, had asked the Coast Guard to reduce the hours they must staff them as a cost-cutting move. But local sailors and marine-based clubs and businesses said the cuts would compromise safety and harm businesses situated on the Estuary.

“I’m very pleased by the outcome,” Mayor Marie Gilmore said Wednesday. “The concerns of the city and the residents were taken into account.”

County officials had asked the Coast Guard to allow them to only staff the Fruitvale, High Street and Park Street bridges between the hours of 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., raising the bridges on off-hours only with four hours’ advance notice. They said boat traffic under the bridges had declined sharply over the last several years and that the move would save them an estimated $600,000 a year.

The Coast Guard released the proposed change on May 27, 2010 and got back more than two dozen responses, including petitions, from business owners, mariners and others opposed to the plan. They got two responses in support of it.

County officials had originally considered asking the Coast Guard to allow them to keep the bridges raised at night, but backed off the plan after it created a huge outcry. County officials, who didn’t respond to a request for comment Wednesday, said it costs $2.6 million a year to staff the three bridges 24 hours a day.

Local mariners said the move to reduce staffing would make it harder for them to use the water and could be dangerous in an emergency. And they said the bridges’ tenders help protect the bridges and the areas surrounding them from crime, terrorism and jumpers.

“We of the maritime community of Alameda will continue to stand ready to ensure access to our shores for emergency, business, and maritime use of our beautiful Island,” Tom Charron, a critic of the proposal, said. “We appreciate the (Coast Guard’s) careful review and the decision rendered to ensure safe access to our shores at all times of the day and night.”

3 Comments »

  • tom charron says:

    It is gratifying to learn of the USCG Admiral’s decision to ‘withdraw’ the proposal of Alameda Public Works Department to cease staffing the Estuary Bridges during the swing and night shift times of the day. (If it were approved as submitted, it would leave only a window of ~7.5 hours per day regular staffed bridge operation to vessels transiting our estuary waters). 

    Alameda County Public Works Department “quietly/if not/secretly” submitted this reduction proposal to the USCG in year 2009. Only on April 1, 2010 did the county Public Works Director Daniel Woldesenbet publicly present the submitted proposal to the community of Alameda.  Input regarding this, ‘already submitted Public Works of Alameda County proposal’,  from vessel owners, estuary property owner/users, the City of Alameda, and numerous others who require opening of these bridges 24 hrs/day was summarily not considered and negated by the County of Alameda Public Works Director. (In other words ,Public input was solicited ‘after’ the proposal was officially submitted to the USCG!) So much for ‘transparent county government’!  

    Only thru reasonable feedback from the City of Alameda, the City of Oakland, Alameda residents, estuary businesses, maritime users of the estuary, and many other interested parties to the USCG was this proposal withdrawn. 

    For the time being owners of businesses and properties east of Park street can still be accessed by fire boats if needed in the night and early morning. (Latest call was the fire-Pier 29/TIKI-Tom’s and use of Oakland fire boat services to extinguish the flames!).  Businesses (ie sand and gravel operations east of Park Street) can safely traverse dangerous sections of the estuary with their sand barges against tides of the evening and early mornings. Mariners can still traverse the estuary and make home destinations east of Park Street at night and early morning. Owners and residents of Alameda who dock vessels and have homes on water lots of our Island Community can still be accesed by emergency fire vessels 24 hours per day!

    There is much written and recorded by the USCG docket site (including a letter from the City of Alameda) requesting USCG denial on this issue if one cares to understand the reasons for the Admiral’s decision.  

    We of the maritime community of Alameda will continue to stand ready to ensure access to our shores for emergency, business, and maritime use of our beautiful island.

    We appreciate the USCG careful review and the decision rendered to ensure safe access to our shores at all times of the day and night.  

    Tom Charron

  • Jill says:

    I guess I was 50% of the plan’s supporters. $600,000 is a lot of money to pay every year for a few yacht owners to have the ability (which they rarely take advantage of except occasionally during commute hours – which is always a treat) to sail through 24/7.

  • Jon Spangler says:

    I’m with Tom Charron and others on this. The bridges need to be staffed 24/7 for proper emergency response as much as anything else, in case a boat or ship hits a bridge or an earthquake occurs,among other likely potential problems.

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