In The News
New Bair Island bridge opens way to almost fully restored wetlands
By Bonnie Eslinger
Daily News Staff Writer, 4/23/13
Thirty years after Redwood City voters saved Bair Island from being transformed into a massive residential development, officials and some of the project's early opponents gathered Monday to celebrate the opening of a pedestrian bridge into the almost restored 3,000-acre wetlands site.
"It was such a thrill," Sandra Cooperman said after strolling over the new bridge onto the island, which until then had been off-limits to the public since 2007. She was one of the residents who organized a ballot referendum in 1982 that blocked the city council's approval of the controversial development.
The $7 million Bair Island restoration effort began in 2007, roughly 10 years after the Peninsula Open Space Trust bought the bayfront land and turned it over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and California's Department of Fish and Game for inclusion in the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
Monday's event, fittingly scheduled for Earth Day, also included the opening of a two-mile public trail around the southern inner island. A seven-mile path complete with viewing platforms and informational displays is expected to open by early next year.
Nearly a century ago, Bair Island -- named after rancher Fred Bair, who owned it -- was diked and drained to create land for cattle grazing, according to the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. In the 1940s, Leslie Salt Co. acquired the property and installed levees that still divide the island into three areas. In 1973, Mobil Oil bought the land and a few years later proposed the 20,000-home development that provoked community members into action.
"They were going to fill in the wetlands and develop it similar to Foster City," said Eric Mruz, refuge manager for the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
The current restoration work involves removing sections of the levees to allow Bay water to flow through and restore natural tidal action.
"You let the tides come in and out as it pleases, then eventually vegetation will start to grow and Mother Nature will take its course," Mruz said.
Water fowl and shore birds are returning to Bair Island, and hopefully endangered species such as the California clapper rail and the salt marsh harvest mouse will follow, Mruz said.
Much of the soil used to shore up the levees came from the Port of Redwood City's dredging, Mruz said.
The new pedestrian bridge is off Bair Island Road, on the east side of Highway 101. A small visitors' parking lot on the south side of the road eventually will be expanded so school buses can bring students there, he said. Dogs are not allowed.
Josh Sonnenfeld, campaign manager for Save the Bay, compared the battle to save and restore Bair Island with citizen efforts against Redwood City Saltworks, a proposal to develop 1,400 acres of nearby salt ponds owned by Cargill.
"The parallels are striking," Sonnenfeld said. "Of course we'd like to see the same thing happening south of here at the (Cargill) saltponds."
That plan was put on hold by developer DMB Pacific Ventures last year. The company is seeking clarification on whether the project would need approvals from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency.