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In The News

Regulatory agencies clash

By Michelle Durand
The Daily Journal, 1/12/10

A letter from the Environmental Protection Agency to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers bolsters the view that the Cargill Saltworks site in Redwood City is restorable and that any evaluation of the land should consider sea level rise.

Citing its own 2009 report, the  letter, by EPA Water Division Director Alexis Strauss, tells the Army Corps both entities “should carefully consider sea level issues associated with developing areas of the Bay that are at or below current and projected sea level.”

The Bay and its adjacent waters are “critically important aquatic resources that warrant special attention and protection as we proceed,” the letter states.

The letter sent this month primarily chastises the corps for moving forward with a jurisdictional determination on its own, a move the EPA called “unfortunate and highly inappropriate” because it is a partner in implementing the Clean Water Act.

But the missive spends the latter half listing factors used to evaluate the development proposal, including notice that the 2002 EPA letter which some “interested parties” are using as the agency’s stance on permitting doesn’t actually reflect current information about possible restoration, flood risks and mitigation.

“It’s welcome to see something from the EPA that specific,” said David Lewis, executive director of nonprofit Save the Bay, which is opposing development.

Lewis said he takes the letter at face value but is glad it not only asserts the EPA’s right to be involved but also discusses changes of the past seven years.

“I don’t think climate strategy was really on the radar in 2002,” Lewis said.

David Smith, vice president of regulatory affairs for DMB, said the letter — and its comments about sea level and climate change — is nothing DMB hasn’t always been ready to talk about.

“We’ve been talking about it the whole time ... it doesn’t address anything that isn’t already front and center,” Smith said.

In the fall, the corps was asked by Cargill developers DMB to look at its so-named 50-50 Balanced Plan which calls for 50 percent of the 1,436-acre site to be preserved for permanent open space, public recreation and tidal marsh restoration and the remaining half be developed into housing, schools, parks and retail and transit facilities.

DMB said it was proactively taking the first steps toward a federal regulatory review but Lewis dismissed the announcement as little more than an attempt to look busy while Redwood City assesses its development proposal.

The one thing both sides agree upon is if the corps has jurisdiction over the land and must issue a permit for a use change. Rather than wait for an answer, DMB jumped into the review to coincide with other environmental analyses by the state and Redwood City.

One loophole may be that DMB does not currently believe the review is legally required which leaves up in the air what happens if the review of the proposal is not in line with the company’s position.

The Saltworks site was issued a permit in 1940 for salt harvesting and it has stood since. The permit is no longer necessary because DMB is looking at development and also restoration of 400 acres of new tidal marsh habitat, according to Smith.


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