City’s Plan Would Pave Bay Wetlands with Golf Course, Nearly 500 Houses

Photo of Area 4
Historic Bay tidal marsh, Newark’s “Area 4,” is one of the largest areas of restorable, undeveloped baylands in the South Bay (Photo by Margaret Lewis)

Should a bayside city work to help expand the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, restoring more than 400-football fields-worth of Bay wetlands and habitat? Or should they forever destroy that opportunity by filling in the area with an 18-hole golf course and nearly 500 single family houses?

Those are the choices right now in the City of Newark – a shoreline city of 40,000 next to Fremont. Rather than recognize the incredible opportunity to protect the Don Edwards S.F. Bay National Wildlife Refuge, endangered species, and migratory bird habitat, Newark is seeking approval to fill in over 300 acres of historic baylands, including nearly 100 acres of wetlands and aquatic habitat, sprawling the city into a FEMA-designated flood zone.

Environmental organizations and regulatory agencies have long stressed to Newark of the ecological importance of 550-acre “Area 4” – one of the largest areas of restorable, undeveloped baylands in the South Bay:

  • The 1999 Baylands Ecosystem Habitat Goals Project, the scientific roadmap for the restoration of the Bay shoreline, identifies Area 4 as being uniquely situated for the restoration of both tidal marsh and adjacent upland transition zones, two habitats critical to the health of the Bay
  • Area 4 is host to approximately a dozen special status species –including the endangered Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse – and it is directly adjacent to Mowry Slough, a primary breeding ground for San Francisco Bay Harbor Seals
  • The San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board has stated that “large expanses of undeveloped uplands immediately adjacent to tidal sloughs are extremely rare in the south and central San Francisco Bay” and that “Area 4 represents a rare opportunity to … provide an area for tidal marsh species to move up slope in response to sea level rise”
  • Similarly, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife have stated that “this wetland is an integral component of the San Francisco Bay ecosystem,” and “critically important to waterfowl and shorebirds.”

Yet Newark has ignored these concerns, proposing to fill in these rare wetlands and wildlife habitat with 2.1 million cubic yards of fill – enough dirt to fill nearly 100 trucks a day for two years straight!

The City should focus future growth within already developed areas, near transit, shops and services, not on ecologically-sensitive, restorable baylands at risk from flooding and sea level rise.

Update 10/11/2013: 

Opposition to Newark’s plan to build as many as 500 houses and an 18-hole golf course on one of the largest pieces of restorable Bay shoreline in the South San Francisco Bay is growing. More than 2,000 Bay Area residents submitted comments to the city on its General Plan. You added your voice to the chorus of opposition from regulatory agencies including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC), and the Water Board.

A letter submitted by Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge (USFWS) staff stated, “the proposed development of Area 4 will only add to the cumulative loss of tidal wetlands in San Francisco Bay and endangered species that are dependent on that habitat.”

Your support also helped us convince several environmental organizations to send letters of opposition, including Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, and Greenbelt Alliance. Thanks to you, Newark’s plan will not go unnoticed much longer. Sign up here for updates on next steps.

Explore the Newly-Opened Trail at Bair Island

Image of Bair Island's new pedestrian bridge
The new pedestrian bridge – the public’s gateway to exploring Bair Island

Save The Bay was thrilled last week to join the Redwood City community in a celebration of an important milestone in the nearly-completed restoration of Bair Island. Last Monday morning, the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge celebrated the opening of a new pedestrian bridge, and the first segment of trails accessible to the public since restoration work began in 2007. [Click here to see the Palo Alto Daily News’ slideshow from the event]

Bair Island is a 3,000-acre series of wetlands along the Bay shoreline in Redwood City. Frequently called the “crown jewel” in the restoration of the South Bay, Bair Island is home to over 150 species of birds and wildlife – including several pods of adorable, yet skittish harbor seals who nurse their pups on the Island. With a history including salt production and agriculture, the current restoration project aims to bring back the natural functions of this ecosystem by punching holes in the old levees and reconnecting the tides to allow the return of Bay tidal marsh and the endangered species that depend on them.

While there is still some work to be done before full public access is opened (expected to be late 2013 or early 2014), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided it was ready to open up a 1-mile trail loop for the public to visit the area and get a peek at the restoration work underway. This loop goes around a triangular-shaped area of Inner Bair Island called Area D.

Area D has subsided over the years, and so project planners raised the elevation with dredge material from the nearby Port of Redwood City. The area is currently covered in water and shorebirds. As construction crews complete the final breaches of the old levees of Inner Bair Island later this year, the water will drain out and the area is intended to be upland habitat for Bay wildlife.

How to visit Bair Island – the 1-mile Area D loop trail:

There is currently only one way to access Bair Island – through the new pedestrian bridge that connects Uccelli Boulevard in Redwood City with Inner Bair Island.

Map of Bair Island's Area D
Image courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / Don Edwards SF Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Directions:

(Note: This trail area is so new that it doesn’t appear on Google Maps. If you want to plug an address into your GPS or navigation device, use the intersection of Bair Island Road and Uccelli Boulevard in Redwood City)

  • From Highway 101, take the Whipple Ave. exit
  • Go east and turn right on E. Bayshore Road
  • Passing the car dealership and old movie theater, use the new roundabout and continue on to Bair Island Road
  • In one quarter of a mile you will see the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge parking lot on your right. Make sure to drive slowly, as the sign is easy to miss. There will likely be construction equipment in the lot, but you shouldn’t have trouble finding a parking spot
  • Park and walk back to Bair Island Road. As you turn right, the road becomes Uccelli Boulevard. In about 400 feet, you will see the new pedestrian bridge on your left. Cross over the bridge and you can walk around the 1-mile Area D loop trail

Additional notes

  • Note that due to the sensitivity of this wetland restoration area, dogs are not allowed
  • For boaters, note that the changing hydrology associated with the restoration has created temporary fast-moving water in Smith and Corkscrew Sloughs that can be unsafe. Boaters can read more on the website of the Bair Island Aquatic Center

To learn more about Bair Island and Redwood City residents’ successful effort to save the area from development, read “Bair Island Restoration Nearing Completion” here on Save The Bay’s blog. You can also visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife / Don Edwards SF Bay National Wildlife Refuge’s official website for the site, which includes updates on the current construction work.

Bair Island Restoration Nearing Completion

Aerial photo of Bair Island
View of Bair Island, looking north towards Redwood Shores (photo by Russ Lowgren, Ducks Unlimited)

On a recent foggy morning, Save The Bay policy and restoration staff got to see first-hand the exciting progress taking place at Bair Island (map), one of the most anticipated marsh restoration projects in San Francisco Bay.

Saved by Redwood City residents in the 1980’s from a massive development proposal by Mobil Oil, 3,000-acre Bair Island is home to over 150 species of birds and wildlife, including great blue herons, snowy egrets, the endangered California clapper rail, Salt marsh harvest mouse, and several pods of adorable, yet skittish harbor seals who nurse their pups on the Island.

Bair is actually split up into 3 separate islands. The smallest is Inner Bair, which comes right up against Highway 101. Cross over Smith Slough and you’re at Middle Bair, which is more than twice as big. Finally, on the other side of the windy Corkscrew Slough is Outer Bair, which extends out into the open Bay.

Major restoration work, which has been going on for several years, is nearing completion. Construction crews have already breached the old levees of Outer Bair, allowing the Bay tides to come back in. This winter, after the installation of two “flow constrictors” in the two major sloughs, the crews breached Middle Bair too. (The flow constrictors are intended to reduce the speed of the water, protecting the nearby Port of Redwood City and Pete’s Harbor marina.) Now workers are nearly finished raising the soil height of Inner Bair (it had subsided over the years), so that it too can be breached and restored back to healthy tidal marsh.

The final restoration of Inner Bair won’t likely happen until the late summer or early fall, but limited public access is expected much sooner – as early as this spring – so more people can get a peek at the exciting work underway. A new pedestrian bridge is being installed, which will allow visitors to cross over from Uccelli Boulevard in Redwood City and walk around a triangular section of Inner Bair.

Full public access to Inner Bair Island, along with interpretive signs and overlooks, is expected to arrive by the end of the year, opening up a 3-mile loop trail for the estimated 250,000 annual visitors that have been anxiously awaiting the completion of the restoration work. We’ll keep you updated on the progress!

Want to learn more about Bair Island? Check out our past blog on Mobil Oil’s plans in the 1980’s to develop the area with thousands of houses, and the courageous Redwood City residents who fought back and saved Bair Island for future generations.

 

UPDATE – May 2013:

Good news! The Don Edwards SF Bay National Wildlife Refuge has now opened a small portion of Bair Island to the public. To learn more about the areas currently open for access, see our latest blog, “Explore the Newly-Opened Trails at Bair Island.”