Environmental advocates push to restore Redwood City's salt pond as marine sanctuary

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. (KGO) -- An October court ruling has placed a key piece of San Francisco Bay Shoreline, the Cargill salt ponds, back on the restoration agenda for local environmental advocacy groups.

Many people, looking across the Cargill salt ponds in Redwood City, probably see a bleached and barren landscape, stretching from the shoreline like giant bed sheets.

But activists like Save the Bay director David Lewis are hoping this unique timing could provide a historic opportunity to transform the area into a marine sanctuary.

"So we now know that ponds like this can be restored to tidal marsh," Lewis says, "ponds like this on the Napa river have been restored to tidal marsh and they're full of fish right now."

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The area has been the focus of an ongoing debate, since it's owner Cargill, proposed filling in a section to build housing.

That plan suffered a setback when a court ruled the marsh falls under protections of the Clean Water Act.

Now, Save the Bay and other environmental advocates are hoping the recent court decision can help kick-start a new drive to restore the marsh.

Lewis and others are calling on Cargill to sell or donate the site.

"Save the Bay has been calling on Cargill to sell or donate that property to the wildlife refuge for over a decade," Lewis explains. "The highest and best use of that property is wetlands that protect the shoreline and provide habitat for fish and wildlife."

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Environmental groups also believe that restoring the ponds would have a practical benefit as well, helping to battle sea level rise by acting as a natural spillway.

Cargill, meanwhile. has already transferred vast stretches of salt ponds in other parts of the Bay for restoration.

The company argues that the Redwood City site could be developed into a mixed-use project, which would provide badly needed housing to the area.

But with the prospects for development looking more difficult, city council member and former Redwood City mayor Ian Bain says this may be the time to sit down and talk.

"I think that gives a new opportunity for them," Bain says. "The last face to face conversation I had with them was probably two years ago when I was mayor, and I urged them to seriously think about that at the time."

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The former mayor adds, "I'd be happy to reach out and give them my thoughts on that."

As of now, no talks between organizers and Cargill developers are scheduled.

In a statement, developers said they were disappointed at the court ruling, and are reviewing all options.
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