We haven’t heard much lately about the proposed veterans facility at Alameda Point, but it’s been moving full steam ahead.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is conducting its environmental review and seeking architecture/engineering firms to plan and design an outpatient clinic, which will also include a columbarium, administrative space, and associated parking. This $210 million project will provide primary and specialty care, including ancillary services, mental health, substance abuse, ambulatory surgery, and vocational rehab for over 7,000 veterans from Northern Alameda County.
The land for this 110-acre project sits on the former runways and is part of the 549 acres formerly slated to become the “Alameda National Wildlife Refuge.” All 549 acres will be acquired through a no-cost federal-to-federal land transfer from the Department of Defense (the Navy) to the VA. This transfer has been in the works since 2006, when the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service declined to take the land. Fish & Wildlife did not want to be perpetually responsible for monitoring toxic issues at the old disposal site in the western wetlands area. While the VA needs only 110 acres for its project, the Navy said the VA had to take all the land or none of it.
Under the 1996 base reuse plan, the property owner and the city council, with public input, are responsible for developing a management plan and philosophy for the wildlife refuge. So far the VA plans to continue contracting with Fish & Wildlife to look out for the endangered birds, but the East Bay Regional Park District could also handle that job. There is no indication that either the VA or the city is working to create a bona fide wildlife refuge with more wetlands and marshes that provide foraging areas for waterfowl, or a public access system. For example, the VA’s recent detailed solicitation for firms makes no mention of the nature center the VA included in its September 2010 proposal to the city council. The nature center was to house the wildlife refuge’s management office.
As the project moves forward, our city council has both a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge: to become the advocate for a full-fledged urban wildlife refuge, fulfilling the responsibilities described in the base reuse plan. The opportunity: to partner with the VA in the construction of the roadway and infrastructure out to the site. The adjacent 200-plus acres (the Northwest Territories) are under the city’s trusteeship of Public Trust Lands. A regional park and Bay Trail have been planned there for 15 years, and wetlands and habitat restoration are being considered, but we need a road to get there. Partnering with the VA could help build the roadway and infrastructure to the western shoreline and fulfill the promise of maximum public shoreline access. The VA’s utility installation and site improvements are scheduled to begin in August 2012.
Stay tuned. The environmental assessment statement will be issued soon, with public meetings to follow. Let’s assist our veterans, our wildlife, our environment, and our city!
Originally published in Alameda Sun