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Construction of vets clinic and cemetery at former CA Navy base to start next year

Alameda Naval Base (Abe Bingham/Flickr)

Plans to construct a veterans clinic and national cemetery at the former U.S. Navy base in Alameda have gotten a $26 million boost under federal legislation, helping clear the way for work to begin next year on the long-stalled project.

The money is included in two spending packages totaling $1.4 trillion that President Donald Trump signed to avert a government shut down.

It’s on top of $87 million already appropriated for the project’s design, engineering and environmental work.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, said in a written statement she supported the bill Trump signed Dec. 20, which includes money for the cemetery, because the overall spending package “touches the lives of every single person in this country, making critical investments in the fight to reduce poverty, increase opportunity, and invest in all people.”

Construction of the cemetery and its niches for the cremated remains of up to 300,000 veterans should start sometime in 2020, according to Alameda officials. No ground-breading date has been announced so far, however.

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Initial construction will include an outpatient clinic to serve an estimated 9,0000 local veterans and the first section of the cemetery, which is projected to take at least 30 months to complete.

The first interments will occur after the first phase is finished.

The cemetery will not be completely built out for 110 years; work will be done in 10-year phases as additional federal money becomes available. Currently, the overall cost is projected at $210 million.

Interments must be above ground because much of the former Navy base near San Francisco Bay is wetlands.

The initial construction phase has been projected to cost about $80 million, but the amount likely will end up being higher.

The Department of Veterans Affairs owns the 624-acre property along the northwest portion of the former Navy base, now known as Alameda Point.

The outpatient clinic and cemetery, plus a regional VA benefits office, will take up about 112 acres.

The remainder of the site will be wetlands and a wildlife refuge to protect the endangered California least tern, which nest at the former base for about four months each year as they migrate along the West Coast.

“I think it’s good that some of this place will be used to help veterans since that’s part of its history,” Justin Keohane, 27, of Alameda, said as he walked his dog through the former Navy base Friday morning. “But it’s also good some will be kept as open space. This is prime real estate and there’s pressure everywhere in the Bay Area to build.”

Construction of the clinic and cemetery has been anticipated since at least November 2014, when the U.S. Navy transferred the property to the VA.

The project stalled after the cost of building a VA hospital in Aurora, Colorado, ballooned to more than $1 billion, prompting Congress to pass legislation in 2015 that requires the VA to transfer management of any large construction project to the Army Corps of Engineers or a similar agency.

The requirement essentially meant plans for the cemetery and clinic in Alameda had to be restarted.

Work on the first phase, covering 20 acres, should be completed by about 2023, according to Alameda officials.

The 158,000-square-foot clinic will replace the Department of Veterans Affairs’ current facility on Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Oakland.

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© 2019 the Contra Costa Times