News

Monday, March 16, 2015

WATER POLICY: Salt pond saga raises questions about feds’ regulatory reach

Annie Snider and Debra Kahn, E&E reporters
Greenwire: Thursday, March 12, 2015

Article updated at 4:16 p.m. EDT.

FREMONT, Calif. -- The sprawling mud flats, salt ponds, sloughs and marshes at the southern end of San Francisco Bay teem with hundreds of thousands of shorebirds and waterfowl every spring and fall.

The Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge wetlands are a paradise for nature lovers -- but it's not all natural.

Earthen levees tended by a clamshell dredge create a watery maze and serve as a reminder of the bay's historical role as a hub for industrial salt production.

As far back as the 1850s, salt-making operations ruled the edges of the southern bay. Saltworks staked out spots in the marshes and built levees that severed wetlands from the bay, creating networks of industrial ponds.

By the late 1970s, salt production had consolidated from small, scattered operations into one large one ultimately run by international food and commodities goliath Cargill Inc. And conservationists looking to protect dwindling wetlands and revitalize degraded marshes began eyeing old saltworks as restoration opportunities.

Today, former saltworks are home to the West Coast's largest tidal wetlands restoration effort, covering an area the size of Manhattan.

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Monday, March 16, 2015

Rep. Speier Introduces Legislation to Restore San Francisco Bay Estuary

Press Release

February 26, 2015

WASHINGTON, DC – Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco/San Mateo) today introduced the San Francisco Bay Restoration Act to help revive the Bay’s historic wetlands and protect our vibrant coastal community from further erosion.

“We must fight to keep the San Francisco Bay estuary vibrant, healthy, and beautiful,” said Speier. “It is the source of so much happiness and prosperity for all of us. By restoring it, we defend the environment we love, help businesses thrive, and grow more resilient in the face of sea level rise.”

The Bay Area generates more than $370 billion in goods and services annually and is home to more than three and a half million jobs.

“All of us who live by the Bay are uniquely blessed with one of the most beautiful places to live and work in the country, and it is incumbent upon us to protect it,” said Speier.

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Monday, March 16, 2015

Congresswoman Speier Sends Letter to the Army Corps About Saltworks Jurisdictional Decision

Press Release

February 13, 2015

WASHINGTON, DC – Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco/San Mateo Counties) sent a letter yesterday signed by ten other members of the Bay Area delegation to Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy, expressing concern about the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ upcoming decision as to whether the Redwood City Salt Plant site falls under the Clean Water Act and Rivers and Harbors Act. Speier warned the Army Corps that it should not adopt a novel, unilateral re-interpretation of the Clean Water Act that would be inconsistent with its past rulings and might limit the EPA’s ability to regulate similar post-industrial sites nationwide.

The Army Corps of Engineers is considering whether the Redwood City Salt Plant site falls under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act and the Rivers and Harbors Act. Previous Corps of Engineers determinations from 2010 and 2008 found that the Redwood City Salt Plant salt ponds are Waters of the United States under the Clean Water Act and Rivers and Harbors Act. Overturning this precedent could have broad consequences for federal protection of waters nationwide.

“One agency should not unilaterally issue a ruling that guts the Clean Water Act’s jurisdiction,” said Speier. “We strongly urge the Corps to review their own precedents, provide due process, and fully consult with the EPA, Congress, and other stakeholders before they decide that certain sites are not worthy of protection.”

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Friday, September 26, 2014

Op Ed: Whatever federal agencies decide, any Saltworks plan for Redwood City is still a bad idea

By Dan Ponti, published in the Daily News, 8/22/14

The Aug. 16 Daily News story, "Report favoring Saltworks plan stalled," strongly suggests that DMB/Cargill is hoping that some media attention will short-circuit a formal review process that would determine whether their controversial plan to develop the salt ponds in Redwood City is subject to federal government oversight.
More than two years have passed since DMB/Cargill withdrew their initial plan to build a city in the bay, but the bitter controversy that pitted Cargill and its developer DMB against the residents of Redwood City, neighboring communities, and environmental groups has not gone away. They still intend to develop the site and are hoping that if they can get federal agencies to bow out, it will be smoother sailing for the project.
The findings in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers documents that DMB showed the press, if adopted, would reverse long-standing policy regarding salt ponds in San Francisco Bay. As an example, crystallizer ponds located near Napa (and very similar to the Redwood City salt ponds) were deemed "waters of the United States" subject to the Clean Water Act and permitting requirements. Those ponds are now being restored.
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Doesn't it seem odd that the Corps would claim jurisdiction and require permits for salt pond restoration projects, yet now claim no oversight role over a huge development on similar ponds? And there are other oddities -- for example, the Corps attorney's bizarre use of the term "liquid" to describe water in the salt ponds. Apparently, the Environmental Protection Agency thinks something is amiss too, and is reviewing the Corps' decision, in part because of "issues raised by the Corps' proposed approach." What would this reversal on the federal jurisdiction mean for other salt ponds and former salt ponds throughout San Francisco Bay? Both the Corps and EPA oversee implementation and enforcement of the Clean Water Act. Review by both agencies is a required part of the process in making these determinations -- and it should be allowed to play out.
However, all of this is just a distraction because a jurisdictional determination does not address the real issue here: that growing Redwood City on the salt ponds is a really bad idea.
In the two years since the Redwood City City Council turned its back on Saltworks, things have changed. Fueled by a new General Plan and an ambitious Downtown Precise Plan, housing is being built at an astonishing pace, focused in the downtown area where infrastructure and transit already exist. This is true smart growth that limits traffic impacts, makes efficient use of resources and preserves our open spaces.
In contrast, any new Saltworks project would contradict both the letter and spirit of our General Plan. Instead of growing Redwood City within our core, developing the ponds means more traffic gridlock on our freeways and city streets, needless destruction of restorable wetlands, and threats to the jobs and viability of our port and nearby industries. Add concerns about our water supply, liquefaction and seiche hazards, and the risk of placing thousands of additional residents in the path of rising seas to the list and you have to wonder why anyone would consider building out there. Simply put, Redwood City has neither the need, nor the capacity, to build in the Bay.
So what part of "no" does Cargill/DMB not understand? Redwood City is moving on. Developing on the salt ponds never made sense to our community, and scaling back a bad idea doesn't make it a good one. And that's something you might think about while sitting in traffic on 101.
Dan Ponti is a Redwood City resident and president of local advocacy group Redwood City Neighbors United: Responsible Growth -- Not Saltworks (www.rcnu.org).

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Friday, September 26, 2014

Redwood City Saltworks: Federal report that could boost development pulled at last minute

By Bonnie Eslinger, Daily News Staff Writer, published in the San Jose Mercury News, Peninsula Section, 8/16/2014

An Army Corps of Engineers report whose findings could give a boost to Cargill's scaled-back Redwood City Saltworks project was poised to be publicly released but was withheld at the last minute after another federal agency intervened, according to documents reviewed by The Daily News.

And now, officials at the Corps of Engineers are wrangling with those at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to determine which body has jurisdiction over the controversial proposal to develop 1,400 acres of salt flats.

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