If you’ve driven I-80 recently past Albany and were startled by the sight of a big new box with a bright red bull’s-eye peering at you from the side of the freeway, you’re in good company. Target’s new store was plopped down in what many longtime observers say is a seasonal wetland—before regulatory agencies knew what was going on.
“We first saw the Target store when we were out taking a field trip on Codornices Creek with Union Pacific Railroad, which had applied for a permit to improve its culverts beneath I-80,” says the Regional Water Quality Control Board’s Ann Riley. “I saw this huge development going in and was shocked, particularly because I had been involved, before coming to work for the Water Board, as a member of the lower Codornices Creek planning community. We had always hoped the site could be used for flood storage.”
The Urban Creeks Council’s Carole Schemmerling, who has walked Codornices Creek for years, says that when E-Z Auto occupied the site, the land “was full of ponds and puddles” and was “almost too squishy to walk on.” If land is inundated, on average, for 14 days per year, it is considered a seasonal wetland. Whenever a development in a seasonal wetland is proposed, the developers are required to do a wetlands delineation, explains the Army Corps of Engineers’ Andrew Muss. The delineation identifies areas that are officially considered wetlands, which then need to be avoided during the development. In this case, Target hired a consultant to do a delineation but failed to have it verified by the Corps of Engineers.
“This is one of the few major developments I’ve seen where they didn’t bother getting Corps verification,” says the Regional Water Quality Control Board’s Brian Wines. By the time regulators saw the project, the site’s soils had likely been scraped and carted away. “The next thing we knew, the cement walls were up,” says Wines.
Another troubling problem is Target’s proximity to Codornices Creek—in some places, the building is less than 30 feet from the top of the creek’s banks. Despite its urban setting, Codornices Creek is habitat for the federally listed threatened steelhead trout and is the focus of one of the most ambitious urban stream restoration projects in the East Bay. The restoration—which will ultimately recontour and revegetate Codornices Creek between I-80 and San Pablo Avenue—just got underway near Fifth Street, and biologists trapped and relocated over 100 steelhead farther upstream.
When a project such as this is built so close to a creek, developers are supposed to get permits from the Department of Fish and Game, in addition to the Corps of Engineers and Regional Water Quality Control Board. But Fish and Game wasn’t contacted either. “It would make sense given the value of this stream that we should have had a hundred-foot setback,” says Riley. “But we never got a chance to ask for that.” Wines speculates that Target got a grading permit from the City of Albany, which, eager to see the site redeveloped, probably did not ask whether the company had its regulatory permits or not. The city says it assumed that Target had the proper permits because Target was using the same consultant—the Martin Group—that a previous proposed office park had used; the office park had made an effort to avoid wetlands and get its building back from the creek. Says the city’s Dave Dowswell, “I never thought they wouldn’t dot all their I’s and cross all their T’s.”
According to Target’s web site, the company wants to identify and implement “opportunities to recycle, re-use, reduce, rethink, respond and be respectful of [its] impact on communities and ecosystems.” They may get a chance to do just that. In negotiations with the regulatory agencies, Target agreed to pay $136,000 toward future restoration efforts, including setting aside money to relocate some existing structures now on the bank opposite its store, in order to create a better floodplain and buffer zone for the creek to “mitigate” the closeness of its box. It has also promised to try to relocate its loading dock— the part of the building closest to the creek—when an opportunity arises. Stay tuned.