Time to Turn the Tide on Cargill’s Saltworks

Time to Turn the Tide on Cargill’s Saltworks
A view of the Cargill site.

Thank you to those of you who have already signed our petition to stop the Cargill “Saltworks” project and urge that the salt ponds be restored to wetlands. There are many other sites on the Peninsula where new development can be located, but there is nowhere else where 1,400 acres of former wetlands can be restored. Keep reading for more on why development on the Redwood City salt ponds is a terrible idea:

The Cargill site is highly vulnerable to sea level rise

Sea level rise is a serious and growing threat to development along the Bayshore. Recent studies have found that flooding due to storms is expected to result in billions of dollars of property damage, with most of that destruction occurring in the Bay Area. We should not be putting new development in areas that will be affected by sea level rise — and the Cargill site, which is physically part of the Bay, is a poster child for where NOT to build.

The Cargill salt pond site is approximately 1,400 acres on the Bay side of Highway 101, and it is comprised of former Bay wetlands and tidal marshland.  Located across from the Harbor View site, the salt ponds are continually inundated during the rainy season. To develop on this site, Cargill would have to truck in loads of dirt and raise the height of the development. However, this would probably result in increased flood risk to the adjacent Seaport Boulevard and to the low-lying mobile home parks immediately behind the salt ponds.

The Cargill site offers a critical opportunity for wetland restoration

We have already lost 90% of San Francisco Bay’s historic wetlands to development (e.g. in Foster City, Redwood Shores, and the San Francisco Airport). Recent studies on how the Bay Area can adapt to sea level rise have emphasized the importance of tidal marshes and wetlands in absorbing storm surges and floodwaters. We cannot afford to lose any more former wetland areas to development.

Even in their current state, the Cargill salt ponds provide habitat for shorebirds and waterfowl. If restored as wetlands, not only would they provide higher quality habitat, but the ponds would also help to protect the surrounding community from rising seas. Instead of being a burden on the community, requiring costly protection from the effects of sea level rise, the Cargill site could be an asset by providing that protection to existing housing.

Cargill sold most of its other salt pond sites years ago to the federal government for tidal marsh restoration. Those sites are now being restored as part of the Don Edwards Wildlife Refuge, and are home to many marsh species, including threatened and endangered animals such as the salt marsh harvest mouse and the Ridgway’s rail. There is no reason why Cargill should not do the same with the Redwood City salt ponds.

The Cargill site is the wrong place for development

The Cargill site is in the midst of an industrial area far from public transit centers, and has limited ingress and egress to the site. Development here would only exacerbate already difficult traffic congestion in Redwood City and surrounding areas. Furthermore, the site is subject to seismic risks such as liquefaction, due to the fact that it is composed of Bay mud.

Future development, whether residential or commercial, should take place in infill areas, near transit centers. We should not be developing on the outskirts of our developed urban areas, sprawling out into our open space and putting roads and buildings on habitat areas. Even if the Cargill site were not a restorable wetland that is vulnerable to sea level rise, it would still be the wrong place for new development.

The community already rejected Cargill’s previous proposal

In 2009, Redwood City received an application from Cargill and developer DMB Associates for 12,000 residential units (which would house about 30,000 people), 1 million square feet of office space, and additional retail space. A project that large would have effectively added another city the size of San Carlos to our region. There was strong and vocal opposition to this project from residents both in Redwood City and nearby, local and regional environmental groups, and many elected officials from around the Peninsula and the Bay Area.

In 2012, Cargill and DMB officially withdrew their project application, but not before requesting a “jurisdictional determination” from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers as to whether those agencies have jurisdiction over the salt ponds under the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the Rivers and Harbors Act (RHA). In 2016, the regional office of the EPA produced a draft report that found that 95 acres of the 1365-acre site were not subject to federal jurisdiction, but that the remaining acres were “waters of the United States” and thus covered under the CWA and RHA. The draft report was never publicly released.

On March 8, 2019, it was announced that the D.C. office of the EPA had released a final jurisdictional determination finding that, contrary to the draft report from the EPA Region 9 office, the CWA and RHA do not apply to any part of the Cargill site. DMB issued a press release the same day stating that it will start a public engagement process leading to a new development proposal for the site. Reaction from Redwood City’s leadership was far from enthusiastic. Redwood City Mayor Ian Bain summed it up to reporters: “I’d like to see Cargill donate or sell the land so that it can be restored to wetlands some day, as they have done around the Bay Area. It’s not zoned for housing. It is zoned for harvesting salt. It would require a general plan amendment to allow housing out there. There is very little appetite in our community or on our city council to do that.”

Redwood City residents have spoken on the question of whether to put large developments out by the Bay several times over the years, and always, the answer has been no. For Cargill to come back with yet another proposal for development not just out by the Bay but actually in the Bay, is foolish and fails to respect the views of the residents.

Tell the City Council and Cargill that you oppose any development on the salt ponds!

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