ALAMEDA -- The U.S. Navy is expected to turn over land to the Veterans Administration for a veterans health clinic and columbarium at Alameda Point before the end of the year, a key step toward completing the $210 million project.

No date has been set for a groundbreaking, however, with the construction schedule hinging on congressional appropriations and the VA's future budgets, according to local veterans.

"It has taken us a long time to reach this point, but we are getting there," said Mark Raymond Chandler, who has been working with the Alameda County Veterans Affairs Commission on the project for about eight years.

The outpatient clinic will offer health care for at least 9,000 local veterans, while the columbarium will be a national cemetery and eventually house the remains of about 300,000 veterans.

The project is located near a colony of endangered California Least Terns, which nest at the former Alameda Naval Air Station for about four months each year as they migrate along the West Coast.

Along with the bird colony, the approximately 624-acre site in the northwest of the former military base will be near a future regional park and offer a sweeping view of San Francisco and the bay.

Architect Greg Lehman's design of the clinic features a glass-fronted lobby facing San Francisco, plus an overhanging wing-like roof that was inspired by the bird colony and the area's history as an air station.

The two-story, 158,000-square-foot clinic will be on 20 acres and replace the VA's current facility on Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Oakland. It will be served by AC Transit and offer a range of services, including specialized treatment for female veterans.

The clinic is also expected to offer services for active duty Air Force and Coast Guard members, Chandler said. It will have a staff of 250, including 26 physicians and 34 nurses.

The construction will take part in phases.

"Phase one will be the clinic, some parking and there will also be a portion of the cemetery that will be built," David Reel, a consultant for the VA, told the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission in January, when the commission approved the project's provisions for public access to the shoreline. "This portion of the cemetery will be about 25,000 niches. They will all be above ground for the remains."

An additional 25,000 niches will be made available about every decade until about 2116, when the site is expected to be built out, Reel said.

No ground burials will take place at the cemetery because of liquefaction.

"Approximately 440,000 cubic yards will be placed on the site permanently for phase one to elevate that level of the site above sea level," Reel told the commission. "Elevation will be about 13.5 feet up from its current elevation to accommodate sea level rise."

In November, the VA and the Navy jointly issued their final Environmental Assessment on the project, which found that it would cause no significant impacts to the environment.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service also issued a study in August 2012 that found the clinic and cemetery would not put the Least Tern colony in jeopardy. The agency was initially calling for a national wildlife refuge at the former Navy base, a proposal that won support from the Golden Gate Audubon Society.

The California Least Tern was declared an endangered species in 1974, when just about 600 pairs were believed to exist. The numbers have gradually increased since then.

A conservation management office staffed by the wildlife service and the East Bay Regional Park Service is also planned for the site.

Alameda city leaders formally endorsed the clinic and columbarium in September 2010.

Reach Peter Hegarty at 510-748-1654 or follow him on Twitter.com/Peter_Hegarty.

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