Chevron Richmond successfully removes century-old wharf, restores eelgrass

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Chevron Richmond successfully removes century-old wharf, restores eelgrass
Drone footage captures the complex work that was done to successfully remove the century-old wharf. The wharf is now fully removed from the Bay waters.

In the wake of a high-tech, multi-agency effort involving scuba divers, sonar technology, a drone, a crane and multiple barges, Chevron Richmond successfully completed the removal of a long-decommissioned wharf just north of Point Molate Beach Park in Richmond, improving water quality and restoring eelgrass to the 2.16-acre area of Bay shoreline.

The project started in 2020, with pile removal occurring between June 1 and November 30 of 2022 and 2023 to mitigate impacts on aquatic species. Nearly two acres of structure, including nearly five million pounds of timber, concrete and steel structure were removed over the course of two in-water work seasons. It involved the meticulous removal of 820 creosote-treated wood piles and 90 steel piles from a wharf that was decommissioned in the mid-1980s, along with the restoration of over 3 acres of eelgrass habitat.

The wharf was initially constructed in 1904, roughly two years after the Chevron Richmond Refinery began operations. The wharf originally extended 1,300 feet into San Francisco Bay and reached a maximum depth of 30 feet at its farthest point from the shore. 

Chevron worked on the wharf’s removal in collaboration with the California State Lands Commission, San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, Army Corps of Engineers, California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, National Marine Fisheries Service, and the City of Richmond.

Chevron consulted with the State of California’s historic preservation officer (SHPO) and local tribes to ensure their input was provided prior to commencing work, in order to minimize the risk of impacts to cultural resources that may have been located in the project vicinity.  While no cultural resources were encountered during the demolition, engaging with local tribes and SHPO is an important part of the project review and approval process.

Alameda-based Power Engineering Construction Co. performed the removal and disposal of the old wharf, while San Diego-based Merkel and Associates Inc. led eelgrass restoration in the area. AECOM provided permitting and biological monitoring support.

Chevron leased the area where the wharf formerly existed from the California State Lands Commission. The aging structure posed a safety risk due to public trespassing on the aged structure. Vicki Caldwell, Project Manager and Compliance/Enforcement Officer for the California State Lands Commission, was also inspired by the opportunity to leave a legacy, “We can make a difference by cleaning up the waterways for future generations in California. It was a pleasure to work with a superb and dedicated Chevron team.”

 “The bay is a complex area to work within given the number of agencies involved in permitting and the variety of species and habitats that need to be protected,” said Sarah Taliaferro, a Chevron Richmond project manager. “The permitting process took about a year and went smoothly. The agencies we worked with were great partners, understanding that this ultimately is a beneficial project for the bay and surrounding community.”

This project is particularly special for Taliaferro, a Richmond resident who enjoys paddle-boarding near Point Molate Beach Park. Taliaferro and Chevron colleague Maureen Dunn, who works in environmental compliance, also noted the benefit of removing the wharf ahead of construction of a new stretch of Bay Trail in the area.

While the project went smoothly, it was by no means simple. First, crews needed to remove piping and all other materials from the top of the decking, then remove the decking. This was all done with a crane on a barge. The crane placed items onto a second, adjacent barge, to haul off for appropriate recycling and disposal.

Then it was time to remove the piles below the decking. This in part involved pulling the piles up directly with the crane, or using a vibratory hammer that vibrates the pile to loosen it and pulls it up at the same time.

Some of the wharf’s piles had broken well below the water line because of the piles’ age and condition. Due to the low visibility in the water, divers needed to crawl along the sea bottom from standing pile to standing pile to identify broken piles. They would mark their locations with a buoy, and a crane barge would return to retrieve the piles. Once the piles were fully removed from an area, a side-scan sonar device was used to identify any potential debris remaining on the seabed. Coordinates for those locations were provided to the crew, and divers were sent back to identify and retrieve any debris.

Drones photographed progress of the work, which was often done amid strong currents using a tall crane operating in high winds.

The improved water quality and wharf removal made way for the restoration of eelgrass, which cannot thrive in shaded areas.

Taliaferro and Dunn commended Merkel and Associates Inc., the eelgrass restoration specialist, as well as contractor Power Engineering Construction, for doing an excellent job.

Keith Merkel of Merkel and Associates said the Point Orient project added to a recent legacy of efforts to clean up coastal debris in the Bay. The project didn’t just restore eelgrass habitat, it also provided an opportunity to expand it, he said.

Eelgrass provides a critical nursery habitat and live-in habitat for fish and invertebrates, and it also helps to sequester carbon and acts as a buffering mechanism in ocean acidification, he said. With seagrass beds in general declining worldwide, the Point Orient project provided one important step in the right direction for the Bay and planet, according to Merkel.

“It’s kind of neat that in one sense there’s a new philosophy in the Bay,” Merkel said. “It’s not a ‘use it and leave it’ mentality anymore.”