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In The News

Speier unveils bill to bolster bay restoration

By Neil Gonzales

San Mateo County Times, 4/23/10

SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO — An infusion of federal money from proposed legislation would bolster and speed up efforts to restore tidal marshes, fight contaminants and improve the health of waters in and around San Francisco Bay.

The San Francisco Bay Improvement Act, authored by Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, would authorize $100 million annually over 10 years for wetland restoration and related environmental projects.

Funds from the bill "will make it possible to triple the restoration efforts for wetlands," Speier said at a news conference Friday along the Bayshore in South San Francisco. "On top of that, it will create jobs. It will protect our region's ecosystem, and it will ensure Bay Area tourism remains robust. As we know, part of the draw to the San Francisco Bay Area is, in fact, the San Francisco Bay."

The bill, HR 5061, was introduced in Congress on April 15 and is co-sponsored by other Bay Area lawmakers, including Reps. Anna Eshoo, Mike Honda and Zoe Lofgren.

If approved and signed by President Barack Obama, the money would be overseen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Funding could be used to restore wetlands, clean up mercury pollution from old mines in South San Jose, filter stormwater runoff and eradicate invasive plant and animal species.

The money could even be used to restore wetlands on salt flats in Redwood City owned by the Cargill company if it is willing to sell the 1,436-acre site east of Highway 101, said David Lewis, executive director of Save the Bay, an environmental group based in Oakland.
"Funds like this could help acquire and restore that property," Lewis said.

Cargill, however, currently eyes that property for 8,000 to 12,000 homes, athletic fields, commercial development and 436 acres of restored wetlands.

"Residents believe the property can have a multitude of benefits," said Jay Reed, spokesman for DMB Associates, an Arizona developer working with Cargill.

Reed didn't see Speier's bill as a threat to Cargill's plans.

"This would be worthwhile legislation to help improve water quality and restore public lands to wetlands," said Reed, who attended the conference.

Lewis and other environmental advocates who joined Speier along the shoreline also lauded her bill. Lewis pointed out that just a few feet away was "a shred of tidal marsh trying to hang on in the midst of this urban environment."

"This is habitat for the California clapper rail, an endangered bird that only lives in San Francisco Bay tidal marshes," he said. "This bill would provide resources to restore tidal marshes all around the bay. We have about 36,000 acres in public ownership just waiting to be restored."

San Francisco Bay and the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta make up the largest estuary on the West Coasts of North and South America.

Since the Gold Rush, the bay has shrunk by one-third because of diking, filling and development. Although most filling ended in the 1970s with modern environmental laws, the bay lost 79 percent of its tidal wetlands between 1800 and today — from 190,000 acres to 40,000 acres. Wetlands are critical habitat for hundreds of bay species.

Funding from Speier's bill would "help all of us work faster, help us support more partners and launch remediation and additional restoration projects around the region," said Judy Kelly, director of the San Francisco Estuary Partnership. "With additional resources, we'll be able to take out more mercury-laden sediments out of our watersheds, better track and reduce the concentration of PCB contaminants and improve the watershed health for our streams and rivers throughout the region."

Bay Area News Group reporters Paul Rogers and Mike Taugher contributed to this report.


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