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Publication Date: Friday, February 21, 2003

Cargill restoration begins Cargill restoration begins (February 21, 2003)

By Gabriel Friedman

The first steps towards formulating a long term restoration plan for the Cargill salt ponds that connect to the San Francisco Bay began at the Mountain View City Council meeting on Tuesday.

The 16,500 acres of salt ponds that are being restored to wetlands is the largest project to ever take place on the West Coast and the second largest ever according to Clyde Morris, manager of the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

"I'm terribly excited," said Anne Harrington, a member of the Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge and an avid bird watcher.

On Dec. 16, an agreement was reached for the state to purchase land from Cargill that was used for salt production. In some cases, the state already owned the land and merely purchased the right to make salt.

Under the agreement, the land will be purchased from Cargill for about $100 million, with funding coming from the state and federal governments and several philanthropic foundations. The state of California will contribute $72 million, $8 million will come from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and $20 million from a consortium of the Hewlett, Moore and Packard foundations and the Goldman and Resources Legacy Funds.

Using an overhead projector to show slides, Morris described the implications of the deal. "One hundred and fifty years ago,[the Bay] was mudflats and extensive wetlands. Today, there's still some mudflats, but try to find some wetlands-we've lost 80 percent of them."

With the restoration of wetlands, and the return of tidal marshes in certain areas, a multitude of migratory shorebirds and endangered species will be able to find habitat in the area, he said.

In the past, gravity pulled water from the Bay through the salt ponds. When the water evaporated, salt was left behind.

Since the salt buildup can be deadly if it escapes into the Bay, the state regional water quality control board requires Cargill to relinquish control of the ponds only when the salinity of the ponds is equal to the Bay.

But eventually the water can be released into the Bay. Morris said it will most likely take from one to two years for the salt ponds in Mountain View. In the meantime, Morris and members of the California Coastal Conservancy and California Department of Fish and Game will be gathering public input on how to use the restored wetlands.

A plan will need to be drawn for which areas should be reserved for hunting, fishing, bird watching, photography, walking, education or sanctuary. Morris said that three meetings will be held around the South Bay in April to discuss this.

"I will be asking council to take a position" on hunting, said Council member Rosemary Stasek. "A lot of people bird watch. Watching a bird get shot out of the sky is not something they look forward to."

During the meeting, Morris mentioned that informal discussions with members of NASA about connecting a contiguous portion of Moffett Field that could be restored to full tidal marsh had taken place. He suggested that the land would be an invaluable addition to the restoration.

At a meeting in January, a NASA official suggested the idea of returning tidal marsh to Moffett Field was plausible.

Lenny Siegel, director of the Center for Public Environmental Oversight, said it would be an incredibly important step for the well-being of the environment if contiguous land could be integrated with the Cargill restoration plan.


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