Housing or wetlands? Fight continues over future of Bay Area salt ponds

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. (KGO) -- For decades, the Cargill salt ponds in Redwood City have stretched into the San Francisco Bay like a blank slate. What's to come of them? The Cargill corporation sees the outline of a new housing development, while environmental groups see a restored wetland habitat.

David Lewis and his group Save the Bay recently joined a lawsuit against the former Trump administration's EPA in a back-and-forth battle over whether the area falls under federal protection.

"The Clean Water Act says these salt ponds are part of San Francisco Bay," Lewis argues. "They're wetlands and waters of the United States. They deserve legal protection, which makes building difficult."

A court ruling had essentially granted that protection. But in the waning days of the Trump administration, the EPA had appealed that decision. Now, in the wake of a letter signed by Bay Area Rep. Jackie Speier and other lawmakers, the Biden-era EPA has dropped the appeal.

"What a difference an election makes," says Speier.

She has also introduced a $250 million bill for restoration projects on the bay and hopes the salt pond site can someday be included.

"Beautiful opportunities for outdoor trails and for vistas to just sit and observe the sea life," says Speier.

Cargill has issued a statement saying it disagrees with the court's interpretation of the Clean Water Act. "With that in mind, we do not intend to withdraw our Notice of Appeal," the statement reads in part.

Still, Rep. Speier is hopeful the company may be ready to negotiate a new future for the site.

"They actually reached out to me last year. And I think they started to see the writing on the wall," she says.

No direct negotiations have taken place, according to Speier. Groups like Save the Bay say after decades of back and forth, they'll wait for clear signals that the company might be willing to change its plans for this coveted stretch of the San Francisco Bay shoreline.

"The ponds should not be built on," says Lewis. "They should be added to the wildlife refuge in San Francisco Bay, which is the biggest urban wildlife refuge in the country."

A hearing on the appeal was originally scheduled for Monday, but that has now been pushed back several weeks into mid-April.
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