Great news: EPA takes the helm on Cargill’s Clean Water Act end-run

Cargill Salt Ponds - Restorable Wetlands

Thanks in part to more than 3,000 Save The Bay supporters who took action, the federal Clean Water Act and San Francisco Bay escaped a potentially disastrous setback this week.

At issue: Cargill’s reckless plan to pave over restorable wetlands to build thousands of bayfront homes in Redwood City.

Such wetlands have historically been protected by the Clean Water Act, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was just hours away from issuing a bizarre legal interpretation that the waters at this site are not, in fact, “waters of the United States”—and therefore not subject to protection. Such a ruling would have set a dangerous precedent for undermining the nation’s primary law for protecting U.S. waters, and moved Cargill one step closer to paving over our Bay.

Thankfully, Bay Area congressional leaders and more than 3,000 Save The Bay supporters raised their voices in protest, and the EPA stepped in to assert its authority on the issue.

As Paul Rogers reported for the San Jose Mercury News:

Legal experts said Thursday that EPA’s taking over is a significant setback for the project. Not only will the move delay any construction, but depending on how much of the site EPA says cannot be developed, it could be so limited that the project will not financially pencil out.

“For us, it’s a critical juncture for San Francisco Bay,” said Jared Blumenfeld, the EPA’s regional administrator in San Francisco. “Our goal is continuing to implement the Clean Water Act in a way that protects the bay.”

So far, the EPA has done the right thing to protect the bay against Cargill’s rogue efforts to gut the Clean Water Act. Now, we must keep the pressure on for a final ruling that protects these restorable wetlands from development. Ultimately, the Redwood City salt ponds should become part of the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge, and restored for people and wildlife.

The future of these restorable wetlands is now in the EPA’s hands. Please TAKE ACTION and tell the EPA to preserve federal Clean Water Act protection for San Francisco Bay.

Guest Blog | Redwood City Residents Stay Vigilant

Had Redwood City residents not put a stop to it, this map shows the proposed expansion of recycled water service to the Cargill salt ponds – an area designated as open space, where development is prohibited. The ponds are included in what City staff call the “Greater Bayfront Area.” What would have been next – drinking water, electricity and roads? (Source: City of Redwood City)
Had Redwood City residents not put a stop to it, this map shows the proposed expansion of recycled water service to the Cargill salt ponds – an area designated as open space, where development is prohibited. In this map, the ponds are included in what City staff call the “Greater Bayfront Area.” What would have been next – drinking water, electricity and roads? (Source: City of Redwood City)

Below is a recent news update from Redwood City Neighbors United, a local community non-profit dedicated to preventing residential and commercial development on the over 1,400 acres of open space that comprise the Cargill salt ponds.

Although it’s been nearly two years since DMB withdrew its controversial proposal to build a massive housing development on the Cargill salt ponds in Redwood City, members of Redwood City Neighbors United (RCNU) remain vigilant, believing that any actions taken by local agencies to modify the status of this highly sensitive area has the potential to facilitate development when Cargill inevitably returns with a new proposal.

In early February, this attention to detail paid off. RCNU noticed an item on the Redwood City Council’s February 10 Consent Calendar that was designed to expand recycled water service to include all of the Cargill salt ponds.

While RCNU strongly supports the use of recycled water throughout the developed portions of the city, the expansion of services to an area designated as open-space under the General Plan signaled an intent by the City to construct infrastructure, a growth-inducing action that would pave the way for future development of the site. Particularly egregious was the fact that the proposal to expand recycled water service to the salt ponds was being pushed through on a consent calendar vote (meaning no Council discussion or public comment) and without any environmental review.

In a letter to Redwood City staff, RCNU requested that the City remove the item from the Council agenda, and asked that the Cargill salt ponds be excluded from any future amendments to the recycled water service area. Staff responded quickly, pulled the item from the Council agenda, and agreed to the need for “additional meetings with members of our community before we move this forward to our City Council”.

RCNU was gratified to receive a timely and responsive withdrawal of this proposal, and appreciated the promise of a more inclusive process moving forward. The neighborhood group will continue to monitor developments and changes to local and regional maps relating to the Cargill site.

For more information:

  1. Staff report on the recycled water service area (Click on item 7A to see a list of supporting materials, including the proposed new map boundary)
  2. RCNU Letter to the City – February 10, 2014

For more information about Redwood City Neighbors United, visit their website and sign-up for updates at www.RCNU.org

Dan Ponti, RCNU Steering Committee Member

Meet Local Hero Florence LaRiviere

Every section of the Bay shoreline has a story….A story of what could have been, a story of future potential, a story of conflict and inspiration. Behind many of these stories is a powerful 90-year-old Palo Alto woman named Florence LaRiviere.

California, Palo Alto, Florence and Phillip LaRiviere, Wildlife Refuge advocates

Florence and her late husband Philip first fell in love with the marshland as a young, married couple. They’d take a picnic down to the water’s edge to near the old Palo Alto Marina with their children to catch a breeze on hot days. They’d watch the tides wave in and out of the cord grass, and feel the gentle breezes. It was their special place, but it was in danger of being paved over and lost forever. Though they weren’t activists at the time, they would spend the next half-decade of their lives fighting for such places.

Some of the protected places we take for granted wouldn’t exist without Florence. The Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge is one such place. The refuge covers 25,902 acres and spans a large part of the South Bay from Redwood City to Fremont. It’s the largest urban wildlife refuge in the country in an area that could easily have become an ugly mass of parking lots, convention centers, and tract housing.
After over 50 years of working on behalf of San Francisco Bay, what advice would Florence give to ordinary citizens who want to make a difference in their communities?

“You need to know what goes on in City Hall. Everyone thinks decisions are made in Washington or California so we elect people to local councils and boards who have no sensitivity to the land. We don’t know how important their votes will be to us and the people who live here after us.”

Take a look at what Florence and fellow citizens have accomplished by acting locally:

• The old Palo Alto Marina and its destructive dredge were shut down, and now that area is the Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve, which covers approximately 1,940 acres in both Palo Alto and East Palo Alto. Hundreds of species of wildlife live there and it’s considered to be one of the best bird-watching sites on the West Coast.

• LaRiviere marsh near the Don Edwards Visitor Center in Fremont was once a series of crusty salt ponds. Today it’s lush with native marsh plants and home to endangered species like the California clapper rail and hundreds of other migratory birds.

• As the leader of the Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge, Florence was instrumental in expanding the Refuge boundaries to include Bair Island, the Redwood City salt ponds, and the remaining wetlands into the refuge. The recent restoration and reopening of Bair Island to public access is an inspiring example of what can be accomplished when people work together.

There’s still much more to accomplish. For the past two decades, the Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge has been fighting to defeat the City of Newark’s plan to pave over a large section of restorable baylands in the South Bay for an 18-hole golf course and luxury houses. This area is within the expansion boundaries of the Refuge, home to crucial wildlife habitat, and adjacent to a harbor seal pupping site at Mowry Slough. You can help defeat the plan by signing onto our petition Florence asking the Water Board to deny permits for this development.

As Florence says, “If you see something that upsets you, you have to do something about it.”

Thank you for Saving The Bay

As our founder Kay Kerr once said, “The Bay is always in the process of being saved.” It’s an adage we invoke every time we go up to bat against another dangerous and foolhardy plan to fill in our Bay. This time of year especially, as we reflect on our accomplishments from the year and corral our resources for next year’s fights, we remember an important truth that underlies every single victory this organization has ever managed. The Bay isn’t just being saved—we, together, are saving it. To build on Kay’s timeless statement: the community is always in the process of saving the Bay. 

Saving The Bay: Then and Now
We’re continually in the process of saving the Bay.

There’s our founding story. In 1961, Santa Fe Railroad Company proposed a massive 2,000 acre bay fill development off the shoreline of Berkeley (map). Their grandiose development plans included a new airport, industrial and commercial buildings, houses, hotels, and more. Save The Bay came into existence in order to defeat this proposal and save the Berkeley shoreline –with the help of our founding members, we won that fight in 1963.

Then in 1968, David Rockefeller proposed to create a “new Manhattan” by filling 27 miles of San Mateo County shoreline. Their plan was to chop off the top of San Bruno Mountain (map), fill in the Bay with the dirt, while using the leveled mountain for additional real estate development. For the next decade, we worked doggedly with local allies to kill this plan—and we won.

Today, we’re standing with local residents against Cargill’s plans to build on restorable Redwood City salt ponds (map). For the last 5 years, we’ve thwarted Cargill’s every attempt to jam this plan through. Most recently and desperately, they’ve petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to exempt this destructive developmentplan from the Clean Water Act. If we continue to thwart their efforts, we can exhaust and defeat them. But in order to stay in the game, we need your help.

This week, Save The Bay gives thanks to our many volunteers, neighborhood activists, supporters, and founding members. Thank you for standing with us and thank you for saving the Bay. We hope you’ll continue saving the Bay with us.

Federal Wildlife Plan Calls for Restoration of Redwood City Salt Ponds

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Tidal Marsh Recovery Plan calls for the restoration of the Redwood City salt ponds. Their map, above, illustrates how the salt ponds, if restored, could connect with existing wetlands and other wetland restoration site nearby.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Tidal Marsh Recovery Plan calls for the restoration of the Redwood City salt ponds. Their map, above, illustrates how the salt ponds, if restored, could connect with existing wetlands and other wetland restoration sites nearby.

Last week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a much-anticipated 50-year plan for the restoration of the Bay’s wetlands. A blueprint for the recovery of over a dozen threatened and endangered plant and animal species that depend on the Bay’s wetlands, the Tidal Marsh Recovery Plan includes recommendations for tens of thousands of acres of the Bay shoreline, saying that the protection and restoration of the Bay’s wetlands are critically needed for endangered species like the California Clapper Rail and Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse to have a chance at avoiding extinction.

The plan clearly states that restoring the Cargill salt ponds in Redwood City and Newark would close critical gaps in the restoration of the South Bay shoreline.

This is consistent with the message from Bay scientists, Save The Bay, and the hundreds of organizations, cities, elected officials, and newspaper editorial boards who have formally opposed Cargill’s efforts to place thousands of houses on 1,400 acres of restorable salt ponds in Redwood City.

The Tidal Marsh Recovery Plan also calls for the restoration of a shoreline area immediately adjacent to the Newark salt ponds – a 550-acre section of diked baylands referred to as “Area 4.” Save The Bay has joined with a dozen other environmental groups to oppose the City of Newark’s proposal to fill these baylands with an 18-hole golf course and nearly 500 houses.

These strong recommendations by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are another clear indication that the greatest value of the Redwood City salt ponds is what they can provide to the Bay if restored. Knowing that the Redwood City ponds provide habitat for tens of thousands of migratory shorebirds, Cargill nonetheless has fought against any governmental effort that discusses the site as anything other than an ‘industrial moonscape.’

This is the same message that Cargill has sent to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in its petition to make the Redwood City salt ponds “exempt” from the Clean Water Act and other federal environmental laws that protect the Bay from being filled.

The Fish and Wildlife Service took a stand by highlighting the importance of the Redwood City salt ponds to the Bay. Now we need your help to ensure the EPA and Army Corps don’t cave to Cargill on their attempts to be granted an “exemption” from the Clean Water Act. Help Save The Bay continue to make sure state and federal agencies protect the Bay from Cargill. Donate today!