Sea Wall to Protect San Francisco Airport


To get ahead of anticipated rising sea levels, a new sea wall will be built around the San Francisco International Airport, a $587 million plan that includes steel pilings and the construction of concrete walls. In all, the airport has a 10-mile perimeter.

According to The Mercury News, the airport, which serves 55 million people every year, was built in 1927 on the site of what was once a cow pasture, located at the edge of the San Francisco Bay.

Sea Level Concerns

Inhabitat reports that Ray Scheinfeld, planning and environmental services manager for Philadelphia’s division of aviation, noted that airports need large areas of land that are within convenient reach of cities, but are also far away enough from homes and tall buildings. This can mean building on coastal wetlands, and a result of building in such regions means a higher chance of damage from rising sea levels, along with high tides and storm surge weather.

A report dating back to 2013 named the San Francisco International Airport as one of 12 U.S. airports most vulnerable to rising sea levels. Others include Oakland international, Honolulu International and New Orleans Louis Armstrong International Airport.

In response to this intersection of concerns, both the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the International Civil Aviation Organization have issued advisement for building higher runways, the construction of sea walls, better drainage systems and flood-warning systems. San Francisco could be facing waters rising 1 foot within the next 30 years, and another 3 feet or more by 2100.

Sea Wall Plans

With funding to be composed primarily of bonds and paid off through higher fees for airlines, the wall project will ultimately cost $1.7 billion paid off over the next 30 years. Environmental groups have not voiced opposition to the project. David Lewis, executive director of Save the Bay, cited understanding that airports cannot be easily moved.

“But adapting to climate change is going to be expensive. We can save ourselves a lot of money if we reduce the amount that we warm the planet, melt the ice caps and raise the sea level,” Lewis added.

Previously, earthen berms had been built, mostly in the 1980s, to protect runways, terminals and other buildings, though that construction only provides 3 feet of protection. Other than building seal walls and levees, Bay Area cities also have the choice to revitalize wetlands in some areas, as well as allowing some areas to flood if it becomes too cost prohibitive to preserve them.

According to the fiscal feasibility study, the project would include the construction of sheetpile walls at most of the reaches, new concrete walls at a number of channels and the removal of existing embankments would also be carried out. Wetland and Bay fill are also on the docket, though these require environmental permits.

San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin noted that there are certain places that society is going to need to shore up.

“SFO falls in that category. The airport is one of the most vital transportation links in the state, the country and the planet,” said Peskin. “There’s nowhere else for it to go.”


Tagged categories: NA; North America; Program/Project Management

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