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Traffic, Pollution Emerging as Biggest A’s Ballpark Challenges

New Howard Terminal rendering (3)

When the Oakland Athletics ownership proposed a new ballpark at an industrial waterfront site, traffic and site contamination were identified as two huge challenges. But the team and the city may have underestimated the challenges ahead on both fronts.

The Howard Terminal site, as proposed by the A’s, has a lot of appeal: the unique site has the potential to add to Oakland’s urban core and clean up what everyone agrees is a contaminated area. But the extent of the contamination still needs to be determined (it’s part of the year-long study of the site), and with urban renewal going strong in Oakland, some question whether a ballpark is really a solid way to improve the area or add to gentrification. Traffic has always been an issue, and while the A’s have worked on a transit plan that includes alternative methods (including the suddenly trendy gondolas), the worry is that bringing in almost 40,000 folks on a sellout night will overwhelm resources in the area.

New Howard Terminal rendering (2)

That is an issue that can be addressed by planning. The big unknown, for now, is on the environmental side and exactly how much remediation is needed. The Howard Terminal site has been used for a variety of industrial uses over the years, and none of them were exactly environmentally friendly. That’s why the site analysis will be so essential, especially with the A’s proposing a ballpark development that includes residential housing. From the San Jose Mercury News:

For all its waterfront charm, the proposed location has a hidden history below its asphalt. Over the past century, Charles P. Howard Terminal housed a gas plant, a plant producing charcoal, and was also home to oil tanks. State environmental documents show chemicals remain in the soil and groundwater, including some known to cause cancer. Because the A’s propose to build 4,000 residences there, it’s likely the soil will need to be removed.

In January, the A’s and the state’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) entered into a voluntary cleanup agreement. ENGEO, an Oakland-based environmental consultant firm, has filed plans to bore into the asphalt that caps the site and gather fresh soil and groundwater readings. Because the contaminated soil at Howard Terminal poses a threat to public health, the city and Port of Oakland since 2002 have been required to monitor the groundwater and maintain the asphalt cap to avoid breaches. A land use covenant prohibits residential use in its current state.

Previous studies of the site show levels of cancer causing chemicals such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, according to records kept by the DTSC. A soup of other chemicals — benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylenes and cyanide — are in the groundwater, DTSC spokesman Gamaliel Ortiz said. He said it is too soon for the agency to say if the site should be capped or if other remedies are needed.

Experience at other similar sites would say that the A’s and local officials should anticipate a worst-case scenario.

Renderings courtesy Oakland A’s.

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