Officials weigh options for protecting SFO, other airports from sea level rise 

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  • Mike Koozmin/2012 S.F. examiner File Photo
  • Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, and other lawmakers will gather later this month to discuss strategies for protecting SFO, left, and other coastal transit hubs from rising sea levels.
How will California’s shipping ports, infrastructure and airports be affected by rising sea levels, and what can be done to protect them?

Those questions will be asked during the third in a series of hearings hosted by Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, and the Assembly Select Committee on Sea Level Rise and the California Economy.

A previous hearing, held in Half Moon Bay, addressed the effects of rising sea levels on the state’s agriculture, fishing and tourism industries. It featured representatives from the affected industries, along with scientists from various fields who are studying the effects of rising sea levels and ocean acidification.

Gordon said the list of speakers for the Oct. 25 hearing in Long Beach has not been finalized, but Caltrans is among the organizations invited. He said numerous California bridges, roads and freeways might be affected.

Gordon said airports in San Diego, Oakland and San Francisco are all at sea level, and strategies for protecting them must be explored.

“We [the Bay Area] couldn’t exist as a region without the San Francisco International Airport,” Gordon said.

SFO is conducting a two-year shoreline protection study, spokesman Doug Yakel said. SFO does have sea wall protection, he said, but the current system was only designed to guard against high waves, as opposed to an overall increase in sea level.

Yakel said SFO has asked the Army Corps of Engineers for help in figuring out how best to protect the airport. SFO also is looking into whether federal funds might be available for upgrades.

And the airport is working with agencies in neighboring Peninsula cities to develop mitigation strategies.

“We want to be collaborative and to be a part of that discussion,” Yakel said.

Gordon also expressed concern about the Bay Area’s ports and how imports/exports, and the price of goods, might be affected if ports were compromised.

Port of Redwood City Executive Director Mike Giari said his organization has yet to create a formal written plan for addressing rising sea levels. However, he said the Port has already begun a wharf replacement and improvement project designed to meet the challenge. The project includes new wharves that are 2 feet higher than existing ones, and a 950-foot-long sea wall that can easily be made taller due to its modular design.

Rising sea levels are widely attributed to global warming, but Gordon said even if people don’t believe that’s the cause, they should still be concerned.

“I just don’t see how you can refute the data which shows that the seas are rising,” said Gordon. “Regardless of why the seas are rising, we have to prepare.”

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