Oakland's Contortionists

OAKLAND’S CONTORTIONISTS A commissioned study helps reclaim acres thought to be wetlands By Lindsay M. Hitch, Assistant Editor October 2001 OAKLAND — Working around wetlands has been a fact of life in developing airports for...

Wetlands restoration projects are underway all around the San Francisco Bay Area. The National Audubon Society and a number of environmental groups are pushing for a total restoration of 100,000 acres. San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is involved in a number of these projects with a goal of 558 acres improved at approximately $16,500,000.

• Mountain Lake Park: restoration of Mountain Lake Park; partnership with Department of Recreation and Parks and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area; $500,000 from SFO
• Crissy Field: restoration of 20 acres of tidal marsh in the Presidio; partnership with Golden Gate National Parks Association; $ 3 million from SFO; under construction
• India Basin — Hunter’s Point Recreation Area: restoration of 3.4 acres of tidal salt marsh; extension of San Francisco Bay Trail; partnership with the Department of Recreation and Parks
• Bayview Hunters Point Shipyard: creation of 18 acres of wetlands; partnership with San Francisco’s Redevelopment Agency
• Candlestick Point State Recreation Area: feasibility studies for tidal/seasonal marsh creation; partnership with California Department of Parks and Recreation; $500,000 from SFO for studies and future construction
• Oliver Brothers Salt Ponds: restoration and enhancement of 324 acres of wetlands; partnership with the Hayward Area Recreation & Park District; completion by end of 2001
• West-of-Bayshore: enhancement of 8.5 acres of seasonal marsh on airport property
• Outer Bair Island: creation of 37.5 acres of wetlands; enhancement of 140 acres of existing wetlands; partnership with California Department of Fish and Game
• Palo Alto Harbor Point: restoration of 7.2 acres of tidal marsh; partnership with the City of Palo Alto
Source: San Francisco Int’l Airport

Staba says, "It took this major effort to be able to talk to the Corps of Engineers in their language; to get scientific evidence that in fact there were areas that they were considering things that were helping the natural ecosystem, which were in fact just [normal land]."
The delineation project was a $750,000 effort. The airport and Port of Oakland feel it was well worth the money, as they were able to prove with scientific evidence that about 125 acres believed to be wetlands were in fact normal and available for development. Five hundred acres of Oakland International Airport’s 2500-acre property are jurisdictional wetlands.
"It was a major concerted effort to just delineate wetlands. Typically that would be a much smaller amount of dollars spent, a much quicker process," says McKenney.
She explains that many airports wait until they have a specific project in mind and rush through delineation. Oakland’s delineation efforts are not directly tied to a project. Expansion projects are on the horizon, but determining the wetland areas was done in an effort to better understand the make-up of the airport’s property and its effect on the local ecosystem, says McKenney.
Staba says it seemed that every time something needed to be expanded or built to further the operation of the airport they had to go through the same delineation process.
"Kristi [McKenney] decided this time around it would make sense to actually do the science and to have a good delineation," says Staba. "So we went to the Corps of Engineers and said, ’We’ve looked at everywhere on our airport. This is what we think.’ And we went through this negotiating process."

McKenney says that looking at a map of Oakland International Airport often begs the question, Why did they build that there? It is often followed by, Why didn’t they build it over there?
Those questions are usually in reference to the Central Basin, a large salt pan northeast of the main runway. The nature of the Central Basin as a contiguous, high-quality wetland and a habitat for shore birds makes it too environmentally important to disturb for airport development.

There are similar arguments for wetland areas all around the airport. McKenney says that over the years projects have been shaped around those areas, rather than disturb them, making for somewhat unusual architecture.
In planning the airport development program, working around the wetlands was again a priority.

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