Comments on the Marina Master Plan Environmental Initial Study

by Paul Kamen
January 16 2003

The Marina Master Plan Environmental Initial Study contains one significant omission: It does not evaluate the impact of the proposed non-motorized small craft access and launch facility shown on the site plan.

This omission, however, is one of form more than substance, because none of the critical details of this facility are determined. The type of watercraft, method of launching, level of vehicular access, configuration of boat storage, nature of the public access programs supported, and overall scale of operation are all left to a future planning effort. In addition, there may be seasonal or geographic operating restrictions in accordance with findings by the California Dept. of Fish and Game as it examines the impact of non-motorized watercraft launched from the small craft facility proposed for the Eastshore State Park on the opposite side of the North Sailing Basin.

In view of the lack of a concrete proposal for this facility, it would be appropriate to list the small boat access point as a possible source of environmental concern, but to defer further environmental analysis to the detail site planing and programmatic development phase.

On the other hand, some general effects of non-motorized boating on an urban waterfront are well established, and these should be included:

1) Alternative to powerboating

The vast majority of boating activity in California involves powerboats with two-stroke outboard motors. These are among the most polluting devices still in use anywhere in the State, and they are still perfectly legal on the Berkeley Waterfront (we have already banned powered personal watercraft (PWC, or "jetskis") within 1500 feet of the shoreline, but efforts to control two-stroke outboards have so far not been successful).

A waterfront plan that provides convenient facilities for non-motorized watercraft will encourage the zero-emission alternative to powerboats, and will reduce water pollution, noise pollution and parking congestion caused by the much more common ramp-launched boat-motor-trailer-SUV configuration.

2) On-site storage

Facilities for on-site storage of canoes, kayaks, small sailboats, and other watercraft have an even greater impact on reducing congestion and pollution on the land side of the system, because users of boats stored on-site do not have to bring their own boats to the site with a large vehicle. They are free to arrive by bicycle or public transit, and can leave the SUV at home. Even if users continue to drive to the site, when their equipment is stored on-site they can arrive directly from work or other locations and save many miles of East Bay driving.

3) Cooperative organizational structure

Cooperatively-owned boating equipment makes private ownership unnecessary, and extends access to people who do not have the discretionary resources to buy their own boats. The co-op or publicly accessible club model has already demonstrated great success as an access-enhancing strategy in other parts of the Marina (Cal Sailing Club, Bay Area Association of Disabled Sailors, Berkeley Yacht Club) and extending similar opportunities to the North Sailing Basin would add tremendous value to this recreational resource.

There is an important distinction to made here between commercial concessions offering boating equipment for rent at market rates, and non-profit clubs and cooperatives offering community access through free open house events and low cost membership. While both can provide access for non boat-owners, it is the clubs and co-ops that really meet the goal of providing low cost recreational opportunities for the most diverse range of users.

4) Regional air quality

Close-in water-borne recreational facilities have a positive effect on regional air quality. For every family using kayaks, windsurfers or small sailboats in the North Sailing Basin, there is likely to be one less SUV hauling recreational watercraft to the other side of Bay Area or the other side of the State in search of accessible water surface. It may not be a one-to-one equation, but the general effect of supporting zero-emission recreational opportunities close to home is certainly a positive pull.

5) Bird habitat

Before the water access facility can be planned in detail, it will be important to objectively analyze the impact on bird habitat in the North Sailing Basin.

The recently completed EIR for the Eastshore State Park grapples with the same issue, concluding that it is a technical determination that should be made by the "appropriate resource agency" or in this case, the California Department of Fish and Game.

However, the Eastshore State Park EIR draws some preliminary conclusions that need to be examined again before they are incorporated into subsequent planning documents.

In section A5 of the document, we find:

"The observations of the EIR authors and substantial scientific evidence indicate that non-motorized watercraft can disturb waterfowl. Based on a review of several thousand scientific journal articles and books, Korschgen and Dahlgren (1992) identified four categories of human disturbance to waterfowl. The second most disruptive category was defined as overwater movement with little noise (sailing, windsurfing, rowing, and canoeing). Moreover, diving ducks such as ruddy duck and lesser scaup, both of which winter in large numbers on the North Basin, are especially vulnerable to disturbance (Korschgen and Dahlgren 1992)."
No other technical citations are given. If we look up the survey report cited, we see that the "second most disruptive category" is ranked not on the basis of the degree of disruption, but simply on the basis of the number of times the issue has been studied!

This paper is available online at:

Here is table 1 from the report, from which the "second most disruptive" ranking is apparently drawn:

Table 1. 
The number of times each item in the Subject Index is cited

Subject                                Number of citations
Abatement/mitigation/alleviation                        30
   Airplanes                                            15
   Helicopters                                          10
   General                                              22
Anglers (See fishing)
Baiting/artificial feeding                               7
Barges/shipping                                          9
Boating (boats, canoes, sculling, rowing, power, 
         airboats, sailing)                             66
Breeding chronology                                      2
Brood breakup                                           14
Brood rearing                                            7
Cats                                                     2
Development (industrial, petroleum, pollution, 
             urban, construction)                       24
Dogs                                                     6
Energetic costs (flight)                                23
Family breakup                                           6
Farming                                                 19
Feeding (natural)                                       52
      General                                            2
      Nets (trammel)                                     2
      Trotlines                                          1
   Lead weights (fishing or angler's)                    2
   Sport (angling)                                      50
Hazing (scaring)                                        12
Human activity/disturbance, general                     58
   Family breakup                                        2
   General                                              69
   Nest disturbance                                     55
   Increased predation                                  31
Military                                                 5
Molting                                                  9
Native use                                               2
Nest (see Investigator/research-caused)
   Disturbance                                          27
   Success                                              14
Noise                                                   22
   General                                              18
   Water-based                                          27
Refuge (restricting trespass, sanctuary--see Abatement) 36
Research (see Investigator/research)
Roads  (also see Development)
   General                                              10
   Traffic                                              11
"Sanded" dead                                            2
Shipping (see Barges/shipping)
Trains                                                   1
   Furbearer                                             1
   Waterfowl                                             5
Wariness (tameness, alert, tolerance distance)          43

We see that "hunting" is the most frequently cited, with 69 citations, and "boating" is in second place with 66. But these are simply the number of times that the subject is cited in the survey report. This metric has no direct relationship to the degree of disruption, or the severity of the effect on habitat. Any activity receiving more study will automatically rank higher by this method of measurement, regardless of the outcome of the study.

An even more egregious error is representing the general "boating" category as representative of sailing, windsurfing, rowing, and canoeing. The category "boating" as used here includes all kinds of powerboats and airboats. AIRBOATS! These are the shallow-draft boats propelled by aircraft engines and propellers, probably the noisiest and most disruptive mode of transportation ever devised.

On looking at the actual research cited in this survey (and there are 211 articles surveyed, not "thousands") it is clear that most of the studies of bird disturbances by boats involve powerboats. The few that study non-powered vessels tend to concentrate on near-shore fishing activity, which is generally concentrated in the most ecologically active area of any body of water and causes a much longer time of disturbance. And, when bird disturbance by non-powered vessels is found to be significant, it is usually on nesting behavior, not on transitory stops along a migration route. The North Sailing Basin is not a nesting area for the waterfowl species of concern.

One can only conclude that the so-called data implicating sailing, windsurfing, rowing, and canoeing in an area like the North Sailing Basin is mostly conjectural.

There is no question that a kayak and a duck cannot occupy the same space at the same time. But the effect of non motorized boating on wildlife needs to be quantified by an objective, scientific process before we can use this fact to make policy decisions.

If the North Sailing Basin were the only habitat in the region, it would be appropriate to err on the side of extreme caution. But this is not the case. Even within the confines of the Eastshore State Park, preliminary assessment by the environmental consultants on the ESP planning team, as published in the Eastshore Sate Park Resource Inventory, is that the North Sailing Basin is the least important area for bird habitat and the most appropriate water area for recreation. The Emeryville Crescent and the Albany mudflats are far more valuable habitats, and there are many thousands of acres in the North Bay and South Bay that support the same species on the same flyway.

The most important long-term environmental effect of non-motorized boating in the North Sailing Basin is sociological. Kayakers, windsurfers and sailors are the people with the strongest personal stake in the continuing health of San Francisco Bay. Preservation and protection of the natural environment requires political will, and without the constituency that these activities will help sustain, the Bay and the shoreline will be in greater danger from destructive developments.

There is no activity that is more "harmonious with the natural setting" of the North Sailing Basin waterfront than boating powered by wind and muscle. The positive environmental effects of providing access for these activities should be included in the Environmental Initial Study for the Marina Master Plan.