San Francisco Cromicle
While scientists continue to argue about both the cause and effects of global warming, the opportunity to change our habits to prevent it is rapidly diminishing.
Realizing that it is probably too late to stave off climate change, the priorities of government have now shifted from preventing climate change to climate adaptation. As a low-lying waterfront city with 32 miles of shoreline, Richmond is literally on the front line in the battle against sea level rise. Arctic summers could be ice-free by 2040, and sea levels could rise as much as 5 Meters by 2100 if current warming patterns continue.
No part of Richmond is more vulnerable than its tiny but high profile islands, and that is why our new congressman, Mark DeSaulnier, has steered one of the first Department of the Interior climate change emergency adaptation grants to Richmond. The $29 million grant is the first in the U.S. intended to protect at-risk lighthouses and will raise East Brother Island 7 meters above the 2015 mean high tide, protecting the 140-year old historic lighthouse well into its third century.
Richmond Mayor Tom Butt discusses the climate adaptation project at East Brother with Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Coast Guard have already begun to collaborate on the East Brother project with expected completion by August 1, 2015, or the contractor
will face a penalty of $15,000 a day until the project is complete.
Heavy equipment was barged in and put to work preparing the site.
Buildings were lifted by cranes and placed on temporary shoring while the island height was augmented with imported rock and gravel
The biggest challenge is temporarily lifting the historic lighthouse and outbuildings clear of the top of the island while 47 barge loads of rock from the nearby Blake Brothers Quarry in San Rafael are inserted beneath them. The quarry is only 8 miles by water from the island and is the only waterfront quarry in Northern California. Its close proximity substantially reduced transportation costs.
In a cost-savings move, the architecture and engineering for the project was provided pro-bono by local A/E firm, Interactive Resources, and by Charles Duncan, a preservation architect who is also a board member of East Brother Light Station, Inc, the non-profit foundation that maintains East Brother Light Station. Mayor Tom Butt is also the president of Interactive Resources as well as the founder and president of East Brother Light Station, Inc.
“Not only was it challenging to lift the buildings while new foundations were constructed,” explained Mayor Butt, “but it was doubly challenging to keep the famous bed and breakfast inn operating throughout the process.”
The inn, managed by Lighthouse Keepers Bryan and Stephanie Wesolek, provides the cash flow critical to maintaining the historic property, while skilled labor is provided regularly by several dozen volunteers. “Guests are so excited about this project,” raved Stephanie, “that they will actually pay extra to stay her while it is happening.”
“We have developed a special menu,” added Bryan, “to commemorate the event, with evocative features like stone soup, self-rising flour biscuits and high tide drinks.” Guests are issued special commemorative hard hats that they can take home. This is something they can tell their grandchildren about.”
Layers of rock and gravel are carefully inserted below the historic lighthouse and outbuildings
Phase I, appears to be headed for completion well ahead of schedule because of good weather conditions. An RFP for Phase II, which will raise the wharf 4.3 meters above its current elevation will be advertised in early 2016.
Until now, the project has been under the radar for most, but the Richmond City Council was given a private briefing just before Secretary of the Interior Jewell arrived last Thursday. Madam secretary was in Richmond ostensibly to visit Rosie the Riveter WW II Home Front National Historical Park, but insiders knew the real reason was to check on progress of the Department of Interior funded climate adaptation project at East Brother.
Members of the City Council found the project illuminating and immediately began to shine a light on their various concerns.
Council Member Jovanka Beckles was first to speak up, criticizing the Federal government for protecting a lighthouse from sea level rise that will take years to reach a critical stage while Richmond residents like Jason Myers are forced from their homes by annual high tides. “We have to get our priorities straight,” emphasized Beckles. “That lighthouse has seen better days and is living in the past. I’m about right now.”
Nat Bates said he had received complaints from at least three small Richmond contractors who would have liked to bid on the job but only found about it after the fact. “We have to take care of our own,” said Bates. “[Congressman] George Miller never would have let this happen.”
But former Mayor Gayle McLaughlin was the most strident. Backed by yellow shirt wearing, sign carrying members of ACCE, she responded passionately, “I hear out of town people pay a lot of money to stay in that lighthouse bed and breakfast. It’s not fair to those struggling to just get by. Believe, me, I understand the need to deal with climate change, but after this fiasco, I will personally lead a delegation to Washington to make sure that the lighthouse is turned into low-income housing to benefit the community, not to indulge the one percent.”
Vice-mayor Myrick took a more conciliatory tone, explaining that the publicity this project could bring to Richmond could be leveraged in ways no one has even thought of, ultimately bringing both jobs and job training to Richmond. “There is Phase Two,” explained Myrick. “We can institute a training program right now at Richmond Build for climate change adaptation and lighthouse raising. We will have dozens of trained workers ready for the next phase, and when that is done, they can travel from lighthouse to lighthouse, raising these beacons from coast to coast.”
Eduardo Martinez was most concerned about the impact the project would have on wildlife. “I know they have harbor seals out there, and if the island is too high to provide a safe haul out, it could have a devastating effect. I am asking staff for a full report no later than April 7.”
New Council member Vinay Pimple displayed the objective and rational approach that he has quickly become known for. “I will consider this from a legal perspective. I will withhold judgment until the facts are known. However, if this proves to be damaging to Richmond, there will be no bushel under which the Federal government can hide its light. We will sue the pants off them if we have to”
As for me, I wish you a happy April 1, 2015.
(I credit East Brother Light Station Board Member and Vice-president Pete Martin for developing this story line and graphics)