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Rising sea levels and development

By epearlman
Friday, March 28th, 2008 at 9:58 am in Development, Going Green, Island Life.

Both Lauren Do and Michele Ellson posted this morning about rising sea levels and their impact on Alameda: Just what will be under water here as the ocean rises? A few months back, my presciently helpful research assistant sent email on this topic to Andrew Thomas in Alameda’s Building Department:


Andrew Thomas
Supervising Planner
City of Alameda

Dear Mr. Thomas:

I saw you listed as a contact at the city for Alameda Point development and I have question regarding the development plans. If you’re not the right person to answer this question, please pass it on to the appropriate city staff person.

To put it simply, I’m wondering whether the planning has taken into consideration rising sea levels. The Preliminary Development Concept report states that fill will be put in place to compress the mud layer and then removed, “leaving the ground elevation one foot above the 100-year flood elevation.” What I wonder is whether this is sufficient elevation given rising sea levels. I’ve seen maps showing that parts of the area to be developed are at, or below, sea level. And a recent UN report states that models show a rise of 9 to 88 cm by 2100. Also, a story in the Chronicle today quotes scientists as saying the Arctic ice is melting faster than previously predicted.

Is there a report or study that addresses the implication of rising sea levels for the Alameda Point development? Or are the plans all based on the current sea level? Any information would be much appreciated.

My assistant received this reply from Mr. Thomas:

In short, the answer is yes. We are currently looking at compensating with between 6 inches and 18 inches. In other words, anticipating a 6 to 18 inch sea rise for all new construction.

I wonder: Is 6 to 18 inches enough to prepare for the current projections of rising sea levels? How much can we rely on these predictions? How long should we expect a new development to stay above water? Is a lifespan of 100 years enough? If the measures taken by a developer turn out to be inadequate, who bears the future costs of protecting Point development from rising waters? I assume (and hope) these questions are already being addressed formally somewhere.

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