Environmental concerns threaten Howard Terminal
Friday’s newswrap included a bit from @muppet151, who inquired about Howard Terminal’s costs associated with toxic cleanup at the site. As part of its use as a working port, numerous substances were capped by asphalt concrete and parts of the site were filled with concrete to prevent leaching into groundwater. Again, here’s a snippet of his letter to Oakland and Alameda County officials:
In 2002 the Department of Toxic Substances Control released an investigative study on the Howard Terminal site, a follow up to previous investigations that took place in 1998 and 2000. The study showed that having been a manufactured gas plant from 1902 to about 1960 an “area of aged hydrocarbon fuel, about three inches thick, was found in the groundwater in the southwestern corner of the Site.” This contamination does not pose an immediate risk because of an existing asphalt concrete cap. However the study concluded “that the construction activities that would breach the asphalt concrete cap would cause excessive exposure. Therefore all construction would need to be performed in accordance with a Health and Safety Plan.”
A Removal Action Work plan (RAW) was drawn up, and the RAW leads to several questions that have yet to be discussed publically by officials who have spoken in favor of an A’s stadium at the Howard Terminal site, more specifically the role City and County governments would play in regards to the RAW.
The RAW states that should these asphalt concrete caps break, the removal of contamination would cost “in excess of $100 million. It would also require the terminal to shut down for a long period of time.” If the caps were to be broken during the building of a stadium, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say cost over runs could be in the neighborhood of $200 million (contamination removal and stadium building costs), and could delay the opening of a Howard Terminal stadium by at least a year and possibly longer. The worst case scenario being the project being permanently shut down causing the A’s to leave the Bay Area altogether. Such an accident would undoubtedly find its way into a court room as well.
Late Sunday, responses started to come in. The first was from Oakland District 3 Councilperson Nancy Nadel, in whose district (West Oakland) Howard Terminal resides. If you’re not aware, Nadel has never been much of a pro sports supporter, especially when it comes to providing anything for new or improved facilities. Nadel’s response:
Thank you for your message. I see your enthusiasm for the A’s.
You ask excellent questions to which I do not have the answers. I was unaware of such extensive contamination at the Howard Terminal site. Therefore I will have to ask the questions too.
However, since the demise of Redevelopment, there is no city money at all for a baseball only stadium in the Jack London area. I hesitate to go deep into the toxics issues unless there is some movement on the part of the owner of the A’s or MLB. I will make city staff aware of the toxics presence to be sure it’s on their radar screen, if they are doing any feasibility costing of that site, unbeknownst to me.
Our most financially sensible location for sports facilities is the Coliseum, at the expense of the teams and private parties.
Have a great evening,
Maybe Nadel couldn’t recall the cleanup issues at Howard Terminal because they were addressed a decade ago. But she’s been in office since 1996 and Howard Terminal has aroused a good deal of attention at different points throughout her Council tenure. In any case, it’s a curious response.
That was followed up by a response from fellow Councilmember Desley Brooks (East Oakland):
Thank you for your email and the issues you raise. I was not aware of the howard terminal issues that you raise.
I am forwarding your questions to the city administrator so she, or the appropriate staff, can respond.
Please let me know if you have not heard from her by Friday.
In December 2010, Oakland authorized up to $750,000 to study Victory Court and the surrounding area, including Howard Terminal. Much of that money has been spent on studies, even though the public hasn’t seen a single page produced from the work. While much of the information gathered from traffic and parking studies can be used for HT, environmental concerns about the site may require a new and larger expenditure which would be covered by a full EIR. Oakland could choose not to act on that until it hears something positive from MLB. However, if the basic principles regarding cap breach remain, site costs would double overnight, from under $100 million just for infrastructure to $200 million or more including cleanup, and that’s if the work goes smoothly (not a given). Howard Terminal’s supposed to be the cheap site, right?
Even with the cap in place, several types of buildings can’t be built on top of Howard Terminal, thanks to the Port’s 2003 Land Use Covenant.
- Residential property of any kind
- Day care center
- Park or open space created by excavating the cap
Where does a stadium fit into that? That’s for the state to decide. We discussed this issue in a previous comments thread, and Howard Terminal has some special similarities to AT&T Park: both are on liquefaction-prone land, and both sites were well contaminated and required cleanup before a stadium could be built. This isn’t like putting up a double-wide trailer on some blocks. It’s a cost that will need to be addressed if Howard Terminal is to be the site MLB chooses moving forward.
Many thanks to muppet151 for taking the initiative to ask elected officials the right questions. We hope to get responses soon.