Former gun club sprouts new roots 

A native ecosystem is starting to take root at a former shooting range after tens of millions of dollars was spent over nearly a decade to clean up lead shot and other contamination.

The Peninsula Sportsmen’s Club operated a firing range from 1939 to 1994 on bayfront land that it leased in East Palo Alto from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

When it came time to remove the mess it left behind, the club declared bankruptcy and the SFPUC became legally responsible for removing lead, clay and toxic binding agents used to make clay pigeons.

From 2001 to 2009, contractors toiling for the agency dug up 75,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil and Bay sediment and transported the material to a certified landfill.

But some of the soil left behind at the baylands site still contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and lead, according to SFPUC Assistant General Manager Steve Ritchie.

Both of those pollutants can cause health problems for humans and wildlife.

“Low levels were left in the shooting-range area,” Ritchie said. “At some point, there is a diminishing return for how much you can dig up and filter out.”

Piles of clean dirt were poured over 11 acres of contaminated land late last year and the entire area was revegetated using native species, project manager Christina Kerby said.

“They covered the contaminated site and planted vegetation, which will prevent erosion and help return the area to its natural state,” Kerby said.

Species planted include varieties of saltbrush, barley and pickleweed.

The land was donated to a federal wetlands restoration project, and part of the area includes former salt ponds that are being rehabilitated into wetlands.

“Hiking trails are planned nearby, but on the contaminated land, we’re just working on getting the vegetation to take hold,” Kerby said.

The $23.7 million project was funded with water bills.

The federal government will decide when local officials can stop monitoring the vegetation and the soil beneath it, which is called a “cap,” Kerby said.

Monitoring could be required for up to five years, she said.


Native habitat

Some species planted on the formerly contaminated land in East Palo Alto:

  • Tufted hairgrass
  • Red fescue
  • Meadow barley
  • Beardless wildrye
  • Purple needlegrass
  • Common peppergrass
  • Big saltbrush
  • Spreading alkaliweed
  • Saltgrass
  • Marsh gumplant
  • Sea lavender
  • Coast clover

Source: SFPUC

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