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Ports & Terminals

PMSA: Port of Oakland Turning Basin expansion could be at risk from Oakland A’s ballpark complex

The Port of Oakland Turning Basin expansion, crucial to allowing mega containerships to expeditiously dock at the Port of Oakland, could be in jeopardy if the Bay Conservation and Development Commission approves the Oakland Athletics application to exclude the Howard Terminal site from its current seaport designation, according to Mike Jacob, vice president and general counsel, Pacific Merchant Shipping Association (PMSA).

The proposed Oakland A’s ballpark and condominium complex requires that the current Public Priority Use (PPU) designation be removed for the Port of Oakland’s Howard Terminal site by the Bay Conservation Development Commission (BCDC).

The issue will be decided on June 30th when BCDC votes on the A’s application.

A spokeswoman for the Port of Oakland re-iterated that the Turning Basin remains a top Port of Oakland priority:

“The Port of Oakland is fully committed to the Turning Basin project moving forward. The Turning Basin is an open water area next to the Howard Property used by container ships to turn around for berthing and navigation purposes. To accommodate longer, modern ships, the Turning Basin needs to be enlarged into a portion of the Howard site. The Port’s agreement with the Oakland A’s reserves up to 10 acres of the Howard Property for the Turning Basin project.”

Is the Turning Basin Land Now in Question?

Jacob expressed his concerns at a May 12th meeting with officials from BCDC, the Port of Oakland, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the San Francisco Bar Pilots.

He said without a change in the Turning Basin designation, an affirmative vote on June 30th by BCDC on behalf of the A’s application will effectively cede control of the 10 acres designated for the Turning Basin expansion to the Oakland A’s.

Jacob says this creates the possibility that the A’s could veto the expansion.

A Port of Oakland official responded to Jacob’s concern stating that it was true the Turning Basin land would be removed from the PPU by the BCDC. However, the expansion was still guaranteed to move forward. This is assured by an agreement between the Port and the Oakland A’s contained in the Term Sheet between the two parties. The official said the projected cost of the expansion was over $400 million.

In an interview with AJOT, Jacob explained his concerns:

“If the 10 acres is removed from the PPU designation, it is a sign. Either the land remains part of the PPU designation, or it does not. I believe the Port of Oakland is acting in good faith. But I don’t believe the Oakland A’s are. If the Port and the A’s are acting in good faith, they should put their money where their mouth is and keep the 10 acres in the PPU and not remove it with the rest of the land that is slated for condominiums and the ballpark.”

On Dec. 17, 2021, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) San Francisco District, in conjunction with the Port of Oakland as the non-federal sponsor announced “a draft Integrated Feasibility Report and National Environmental Policy Act Environmental Assessment (IFR/EA) for public review. USACE requested comments be submitted by Jan. 31, 2022.”

One of the responses USACE received was from Stevedoring Services of America.

SSA Warning

In a January 14th letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Susan Ransom, Client Relations Manager for Stevedoring Services of America (SSA), which operates the Oakland International Container Terminal (OICT), explained that the Turning Basin is crucial to the productivity of OICT’s operation at the Port of Oakland. This is especially true with the need to load and unload mega container ships of 18,000 TEU and larger.

Ransom expressed concern about the land designated for the expansion being removed from its Sea Port function:

“We all have heard how the Port has said the Turning Basin is a top priority for them and Port growth, yet the land rights are under the current Term Sheet (between the Port of Oakland and the Oakland As) that was signed in 2019 basically give the A’s rights to the land with an ask back after 10 years. This should definitely be the other way around with Turning Basin parcel left as maritime land…. No matter what happens with Howard Terminal, acreage for (the) Turning Basin project needs to definitely be excluded… A new amended document is imperative prior to final approval. Please feel free to share as there should be zero arguments to this happening. I too, as well as others, will be contacting (Oakland Port Director) Danny Wan with same. They have been well informed about these concerns for months.”

Jacob’s concern is that if the 10 acres designated for the Turning Basin is removed from the PPU, it could be considered part of the parcel designed for the A’s ballpark and condominiums. If so, then it is possible that the A’s could encourage the City of Oakland to maintain its non PPU status and thwart the Turning Basin project, he says.

At a 12th January 2022 community meeting on the Turning Basin proposal, convened by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, several speakers testified that they opposed the land being used for the Port of Oakland’s Turning Basin project and instead supported its use for public open space adjoining the proposed ballpark and condominiums.

Jacob said: “I can see a situation where the A’s encourage this kind of use and when the City of Oakland is asked to decide between the Oakland A’s and Port of Oakland maritime stakeholders, they always choose the A’s.”

BCDC Overrides Rejection Of Oakland A’s Howard Terminal Application
Adding to the controversy was a BCDC staff report issued on May 2nd that overrode a March 16th vote of 5-4 rejecting the Oakland A’s application to remove Howard Terminal from its current Public Priority Use status.

Instead, the May 2nd BCDC staff report supports the Oakland A’s application for removing Howard Terminal from the PPU. The BCDC authors say new information has since come to light that was not available on March 16th:

“At the March 16, 2022, meeting, the SPAC (Seaport Planning Advisory Committee) voted 5-4-1 to recommend that the (BCDC) Commission deny the Bay Plan Amendment to remove the Port PUA. (Port Priority Use Area) designation for Howard Terminal, primarily because the SPAC lacked information from the Applicant (Oakland As) and the Port of Oakland it felt was necessary to support the application.”

Stas Margaronis
Stas Margaronis

WEST COAST CORRESPONDENT

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