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Publication Date: Friday, August 03, 2001

City resolves to support Moffett restoration City resolves to support Moffett restoration (August 03, 2001)

By Justin Scheck

Joining with environmental groups and local activists, the City Council adopted a resolution Tuesday that a Navy Superfund cleanup of a marsh at Moffett Field should meet more stringent standards than the Navy has proposed.

Moffett Field Site 25, known as the eastern diked marsh, has been the subject of debate between environmental groups and the Navy since last spring, when the Navy announced its plans to clean up PCBs, DDT, heavy metals, and assorted other toxic substances from the marsh.

The dispute stems from the marsh's history as a tidal wetland that was cut off from the bay by man-made dikes in the early 1900s. The marsh, and the man-made storm water retention pond to which it is connected, are now considered "seasonal wetlands." Their only water source is rain, and in summer they dry out.

Because the seasonal wetland ecosystem does not support as much life as the tidal marsh, there is less risk of toxic substances bioaccumulating in animals, and the seasonal wetland therefore allows for a lower cleanup standard than the tidal marsh.

The Navy's cleanup plan would clean the marsh up only to the standard of a seasonal wetland, and would preclude the future restoration of tidal flows to the site.

Local activists have been fighting the issue for months, saying that the Navy is required to clean it up to meet the standards of any "reasonably anticipated future land use." They argue that, because other wetlands around the bay have been restored, it is reasonably anticipated that the Moffett Wetlands will eventually return to something close to their original state.

But the Navy has stood by its plan, arguing that NASA, the current property owner, has no plans to restore the wetlands, and therefore that restoration is not reasonably foreseeable.

The council's resolution states that the city "finds that a reasonably anticipated future land use of Moffett Field Site 25 is restoration to tidal marsh, and, therefore, Moffett Field Site 25 Superfund remediation should be performed at a level that would support future restoration of the site to tidal marsh -- that is, to allow the controlled flow of waters, fish and wildlife from the San Francisco Bay Area in the Moffett Field wetlands."

Council member Sally Lieber, the former president of the Alliance for a New Moffett Field, introduced the resolution.

Council member Rosemary Stasek said she felt the resolution was important because it clearly states the city's support for local environmental restoration.

"The Navy's position that they don't have to mitigate it to a wetlands state because it will never be a wetlands site unreasonable," said Stasek. She predicted that the city's lack of real power over the Navy, combined with the Navy's reluctance to pay for a more stringent cleanup, could make restoration an uphill battle.

The Navy has not yet finalized its cleanup plan, and the 30-day public comment period on the plan closes Aug. 22, after an Aug. 16 public meeting at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall to get input on the cleanup.

Lenny Siegel, a Mountain View resident and one of the founders of the Alliance for a New Moffett Field, said Wednesday that the resolution "is a result of the city being engaged with the [Moffett Field Restoration Advisory Board] all along."

He said that the city has been supportive of restoration, and he now hopes to engage other local agencies in supporting the more stringent cleanup.

He said that his priority now is to collaborate with the Navy to come up with a plan that will be satisfactory to all parties involved.

Siegel said he hopes to have local residents interested in the issue attend the Aug. 16 meeting to give their views on the cleanup.

In addition to the resolution, the council Tuesday authorized Mayor Mario Ambra to send a letter to the Navy expressing the city's views on the cleanup.

The letter outlines the city's position that "tidal marsh and storm water retention/ flood control are not necessarily mutually exclusive land uses and, therefore, the Navy is not justified in excluding tidal marsh as a reasonably anticipated future land use based on NASA's need for a storm water retention pond."

It also recommends that the Navy conduct further analysis to determine what it would take to meet a higher cleanup standard, but suggests the Navy do so with as little delay to the cleanup as possible, conducting the additional studies "simultaneously, if necessary, with the design process for the proposed cleanup.

Ambra said Wednesday that he has to further review the letter before speaking about the issue.


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