Redwood City Saltworks project waits in limbo while feds mull next course

Palo Alto Daily News

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Back in May, DMB Pacific Ventures withdrew its controversial plan to develop 1,400 acres of Cargill's salt ponds in Redwood City until two federal agencies could clarify -- hopefully by the end of the year -- whether they have jurisdiction over the project.
DMB is still waiting for an answer, company Senior Vice President David Smith said Friday.

"We had hoped by the end of the year, but now we're hoping for the first quarter (of 2013)," Smith said in a phone interview. "We're anxious to see what they say."
The company has had several sit-down discussions with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency, but so far the agencies have not indicated where they stand, Smith said.

If they side with DMB's argument that the vast majority of the Cargill site does not include "waters of the United States" and therefore should not fall under federal oversight, Saltworks won't have to comply with the Clean Water Act or the Rivers and Harbors Act, both of which tightly restrict the kind of development allowed on bayfront property.

Depending on the federal ruling, DMB is prepared to submit a scaled-back plan that proposes to build on about half of the original acreage and restore more wetlands than first envisioned, Smith said.

"We won't re-file with the city until we know their (the federal agencies') perspective," he said. "And until we get the clarity from the feds, we're not doing any elaborate planning."

Redwood City Senior Planner Blake Lyon said when DMB withdrew its application the city took time to archive its files but otherwise hasn't done any work on Saltworks.
The lull does not mean the project isn't alive, Smith said.

Meanwhile, Redwood City residents and environmental activists who want the Saltworks project stopped are not just waiting around to see what happens next. After years of fighting against the development, they're using the down time to gear up for the next round.

"We're going to be ready to roll and engage with the city, as we were before the project went dormant," said Gail Raabe, an organizer with Redwood City Neighbors United, which hosted a talk about Saltworks last month with a former Army Corps of Engineers official as the featured speaker. The group has about 400 members, she said.

The Saltworks project that DMB unveiled in 2009 included up to 12,000 homes, several office buildings, shops and schools on half of Cargill's property, with parks, open space and restored tidal marshes on the other half. At the time, company officials said they hoped to break ground in 2013.

David Lewis, executive director of Save the Bay, which has led the battle against Saltworks, said even though things have been quiet in recent months, arguments against building in areas at risk of flooding were underscored by the devastation wrought in New York and New Jersey by Hurricane Sandy.

"Building below sea level was always a bad idea," Lewis said. "I think people are now beginning to realize that."