Urban Shield Practice at Point Included Gunfire
Endangered least terns nest nearby
On Sept. 9, the tranquility of the remote shoreline on the federal property at Alameda Point was interrupted by participants firing blanks as an Urban Shield tactical team staged a mock hostage rescue. The gunfire was part of the emergency preparedness training that was performed in an area the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) agreed not to use for this purpose.
It is the only new activity on the site since the VA took ownership of the property in 2014. The VA owns 512 acres zoned “Nature Reserve” that can never be developed and 120 acres where they propose building a clinic and columbarium.
In 2013, the Navy and VA issued an Environmental Assessment on the impacts of the VA’s proposed project. The assessment states that preparedness exercises could only be conducted on the area to be developed, not on the Nature Reserve. It states specifically that, “Operations-based exercises would take place only on the VA Development Area and would be conducted outside of the CLT [California Least Tern] breeding or nesting season.”
In 2016, the VA received more than $80 million from Congress to begin work on a health facility and national cemetery on its 120-acre development area, which is located where the Antiques Faire is held each month.
The two-day exercise on Sept. 8 and 9 was called “Dignitary Hostage Rescue” and conducted on the Nature Reserve. The command center was set up inside the gate near the old Air Traffic Control Tower on Monarch Street.
At 7:50 a.m. Sunday morning, a nine-person tactical team was issued their automatic weapons and special magazines for firing blank rounds. They boarded a van and followed the armored vehicle to the exercise area next to an old bunker not far from the west wetland. An AC Transit bus was parked there with mock hostages. Gunfire ensued.
The Nature Reserve area is visited not only by the least terns during their nesting season, but also by countless bird species throughout the year. The area also features two wetland areas and random grassland scattered among the nearly 300 acres of pavement. The area is off limits to the public, with no timeline for ever opening a link of the Bay Trail.
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service apparently acquiesced to the prohibited use, even cancelling its volunteer work at the least tern colony located a quarter mile away from the exercise.