alcatraz.jpgAlcatraz Island is preparing to harness solar power for about half of the historic site’s power needs.

The development is one of many Golden Gate National Recreation Area projects currently underway thanks to federal funding for public parks.

The Golden Gate National Recreation Area, a branch of the National Park Service with public landscapes in San Francisco, San Mateo, and Marin counties, received $25 million in federal stimulus money last year for 14 projects.

The solar installation on Alcatraz is one of the biggest of these projects.

The $8.7 million task of flipping Alcatraz Island’s main power source to sunlight from ferried-in diesel fuel – 50,000 gallons of which is used annually to power two archaic, perpetually running diesel generators – was contracted to Hal Hays Construction Inc. on May 3.

Project planners estimated in March that 1,300 solar panels would be providing about 265 kilowatts that would satisfy 40 to 60 percent of the island’s power needs.

However, National Park Service spokeswoman Alexandra Picavet said that the currently ongoing design stage shows that up to 500 additional panels could be implemented.

Picavet said that when bird-nesting season ends in mid-September, the contractor plans to replace the roofs of the main cell house and laundry building for fortification prior to installation. A requirement to maintain the historical integrity of the prison’s image mandates strict design guidelines.

“It’s a historic building, so the way we’re installing them you won’t be able to see them,” Picavet said. “This should not change the story of Alcatraz.”

In addition to the photovoltaic panels on Alcatraz Island, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area has contracted the installation of solar panels on the roof of its headquarters in San Francisco’s Presidio.

Additional infrastructure projects throughout the three counties include re-roofing nine buildings, replacing a myriad of water lines, and upgrading fire safety apparatuses. Two abandoned houses in the Marin Headlands will also be demolished and their sites re-vegetated with native plants.

Much of the funding was directed toward increasing accessibility to recreation areas for people with mobility and vision impairments, Picavet said. In addition to re-designing the historic chapel at Fort Mason to American Disability Act standards, many of the trails in the park’s Great Meadow will be paved to allow wheelchair access.

One of the projects nearest to completion is a series of trail upgrades at Mori Point in Pacifica, where extensive work was done last November.

More than 170 volunteers planted 1,124 native plants there last year, and Picavet said the San Francisco Conservation Corps is expected to continue re-vegetating the area through August.

“Restoration and re-vegetation is never 100 percent done,” she said. “You’re always working to maintain it.”

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