Our local elected officials and leaders have told us negotiations are “delicate,” that we should wait patiently on the sidelines to see the plans for the runway area at Alameda Point. But with 770 acres of contiguous open-space, including wetlands, wildlife habitat, shoreline, and public access hanging in the balance, waiting around doesn’t look promising.
The City has already jeopardized plans for a new 147-acre regional park by demanding money from the East Bay Regional Park District for city-run sports fields. And now we hear that the Veterans Administration (VA) no longer plans to support a wildlife refuge at Alameda Point.
At the request of the VA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Fish & Wildlife) recently issued its Biological Opinion analyzing the impacts of the proposed VA clinic project on the endangered least tern. Of note, in the VA’s project description the VA has crossed the wildlife refuge off the map entirely and replaced it with a “VA Undeveloped Area.” In addition, part of the refuge is to be used for emergency preparedness training and staging.
What a wait and switch!
Our community has been waiting for years for the creation of a bona fide wildlife refuge. Just because Fish & Wildlife and the VA are no longer seeking national refuge status doesn’t mean we should allow the parcel to be designated “VA Undeveloped Area.”
While some of the added restrictions in Fish & Wildlife’s biological opinion might be helpful, what we really need are more enhancements to the refuge land itself.
We need to expand and connect the runway wetlands to the Bay; plant native grasslands for migratory birds and wildlife to hunt and forage in; build observation “blinds”; prepare for providing regular guided nature walks and educational programs; and strive for a complete ecosystem management plan.
Fish & Wildlife has also done a disservice to the East Bay Regional Park District—the proposed new caretaker for most of the refuge land. The park district cannot negotiate a decent price with the VA for managing this parcel when the biological opinion calls only for killing weeds.
The weaknesses in Fish & Wildlife’s biological opinion put at risk wetlands, terns, other threatened species, and various natural resources. For example, the opinion contains numerous regulations to discourage predators like hawks from perching on nearby buildings, but does virtually nothing to direct their attention away from the terns when the hawks fly over, often from distant nests, by adding grasslands that offer alternative prey. Vehicular usage for a bustling VA clinic is not thoroughly analyzed, and there is an inadequate description of the planned emergency-preparedness activities on wildlife refuge land.
We understand the desires of the Navy and the VA: the former wants to dispose of land, the latter wants to acquire it. But our local leaders are sitting on their hands as a community vision dies. Before negotiations turn into contracts, they need to ensure we have a permanent open space and conservation area—not a multi-purpose runway field.
Originally published in Alameda Sun
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