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Hamilton AAF
San Pablo Bay, Novato, CA

Hamilton AFB, at San Pablo Bay in Novato, California was closed in 1976. The airfield was transferred to the Army as Hamilton Army Airfield, and the housing was transferred to the Navy. Both facilities were closed in the mid-1990s. USCG housing and west coast environmental disaster strike force.) Hamilton Field, formerly Hamilton Air Force Base, was owned and operated by the United States Army. It was surplused by the military, and was officially vacated in 1995. As of 1994 the airfield was no longer actively used by the Army.

In 1932, Marin County acquired most of what is now known as Hamilton Field and presented it to the federal government for one dollar. For over 50 years, Hamilton Army Air Field in Marin County occupied a place in the military and architectural history of California.

Built during the Great Depression, Hamilton's massive edifices with their ornate facades stand as a testimony to the stylish design and craftsmanship of a bygone era. The inspired conception and design of Captain Howard B. Nurse of Hamilton Army Air Field resulted in a place worthy not only of the machines of war, but also for the men and women called upon to use them.

Although Hamilton was hailed as the most modern military installation in the country, function was not the only requirement for its design. Instead, Captain Nurse envisioned Hamilton as a beautiful place in which to work and live. To achieve this goal, the installation was built in an architectural style that blended with the natural landscape. Even its layout conformed to the site's topography. The housing was situated on oak-covered knolls with views of the operations area and beyond to San Pablo and San Francisco Bays.

Hamilton was originally designed as a bomber installation. In 1933, the first planes assigned to Hamilton were B-10 and B-12 bombers, followed by the amphibious reconnaissance aircraft of the 88th Observation Squadron. The B-12 bombers housed at Hamilton Field were phased out in 1937 and were replaced with Douglas B-18s. The B-18, a standard two engine short range bomber, was capable of airlifting combat equipped troops en masse, an important advance in combat techniques at the time. The next step forward in bomber technology was the development of the Boeing B-17, a four engine airplane that was bigger, faster, and heavier than any previous bomber and required a longer and stronger runway to operate. Because the runway at Hamilton Field was not adequate for the B-17, the larger planes had to go elsewhere. Hamilton then became a fighter base and the new home of the 10th Pursuit Wing, which transferred from Moffett Field. The arrival of the 10th Wing with P-36 and P-40 pursuit aircraft and their crews caused crowding at the base and initiated the first of many housing problems. Rows of frame barracks began to spring up on the base as Hamilton expanded to meet its new role as an important West Coast air training facility.

Because of runway limitations, by the 1960s Hamilton was used mainly for training, Army Reserve use, and as a refugee center for thousands of Southeast Asians entering the United States.

A single 8,000-foot runway is located on the site, and numerous large aircraft hangars are present on the site. The housing and support buildings at the base once used by the Army still exist, but are largely vacant. There is no air traffic control tower.

Local ballot measures regarding the future of the airfield have shown that the majority of voters did not support future civil use. Solicitations related to the Army's surplus process showed that there was no local sponsor willing to operate the airport as a general aviation reliever facility. There is active consideration of restoring a portion of the airfield to wetland. The Marin community has a strong slow-growth attitude, fed in part by the rush-hour gridlock on the Rt.101 corridor and the environmental constraints on the remaining non-developed properties.

Hamilton AAF was identified in the 1990 Regional Airport System Plan as a general aviation reliever airport, largely due to the instrument capabilities of the existing runway, which could augment the much-needed IFR capacity of the Bay Area airport system. The use of Hamilton AAF for future general aviation activity had been envisioned as one strategy for diverting general aviation instrument operations away from overly congested air carrier airports during the 7-12 percent of the year when the air carrier airport system experiences a critical capacity shortage during poor weather. Substantial investment would have been needed to upgrade the airport for civilian use, considering the limited infrastructurethat actually is usable for airport purposes.

Hamilton AAF was not needed to provide general aviation aircraft parking or runway capacity for the Bay Area general aviation system, as this system has excess capacity in 2010. Hamilton AAF had been proposed as an alternative to further development of Gnoss Field by some aviation interests based on the belief that the airport offers superior aviation capability; however, Marin County continues to invest in Gnoss Field. The Hamilton Army Airfield is located 25 miles north of San Francisco on the southeast edge of the City of Novato, Marin County, California. San Pablo Bay is adjacent to the airfield on the southeast side. Properties owned by the St. Vincent Catholic Youth Organization and Las Gallinas Valley Sanitary District lie to the south, while property owned by the California Quartet (Bel Marine Keys V) borders the airfield to the north. The Novato Sanitary District's sewer outfall pipeline runs along the entire northern boundary of the HAAF site, and the District operates a dechlorination station next to the pipeline about 1,300 feet west of the bayfront levee on the California State Lands Commission (SLC) property. The airfield parcel includes a 6,000-foot runway, aprons, taxiways, an aircraft dispersal area, and twelve associated small outbuildings. The hangar was removed as part of the Base Realignment Closure Act (BRAC) process, while the remaining buildings were demolished and removed prior to restoration. The 644 acre airfield parcel lies on what was historically tidal marsh. Since being diked off in the early 20 th century, the site has subsided to an average elevation of -5 feet NGVD. The airfield is protected from tidal inundation by a bayfront levee. The parcel would be acquired by the sponsor from the Army through the BRAC process. This parcel is an ideal candidate for tidal wetland restoration.

Dredged material was evaluated for reuse at the Hamilton AAF Wetland Restoration Project (HAAF). The sponsors of the HAAF have stated that they are not interested in and will not be evaluating reusing non-cover material. Restoration of tidal wetlands on subsided diked lands provides an opportunity to offset historic habitat losses. The Hamilton site is an ideal location for such a restoration project. The site could easily be restored to the tidal action of the bay by breaching the existing bayfront levee providing 988 acres of tidal marsh, seasonal wetlands, transitional, and upland habitat. The Hamilton Wetlands Restoration project site was historically dominated by tidal salt marsh habitat but was converted in the late 1800s to agricultural land. In 1931 funds were appropriated for the construction of Hamilton Army Airfield, which was in operation until 1974. Currently the site is mostly grasslands, seasonal wetlands, and developed areas. The only remaining salt marsh in the project area is outboard of the dike that defines the developed portions of both the HAAF and SLC sites. Although the habitats present throughout most of the project site area are structurally simple (i.e., lacking the vertical structure that would be provided by trees and shrubs), a moderately large number of vertebrate species are present in this area, including some special-status species; however, relatively few species of reptiles and amphibians are present. Bird diversity is quite high, but the number of birds using the project site is limited. Species present include ducks, shorebirds, wading birds, passerines (perching, mainly song birds), and many species of raptors (birds of prey) that forage across the entire site.

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