Obama administration expedites Sears Point restoration
By SUZIE RODRIGUEZ / Sonoma Valley Correspondent
Earlier this month the Obama administration announced that it had selected 14 high-priority infrastructure projects around the nation for expedited permitting and environmental review.
One of those 14 selections includes the Sears Point Restoration project. It will be expedited as much as one year, and will create a significant number of local jobs.
“It’s hard to quantify the job numbers,” said Julian Meisler, Baylands Program Manager for Sonoma Land Trust, which is spearheading the restoration. “But we anticipate about 15,000-20,000 hours of work in seasonal construction spanning two years, with jobs that include heavy equipment operators, haulers, demolition crews, and the like.”
Not included in these numbers are engineers, hazardous materials remediation experts, biologists, and other professionals that will be (or are now) employed by the project.
The Sears Point Restoration project is part of the larger West Coast Coastal Habitat Restoration project, which includes four sites in California and Washington. Aside from Sears Point Tidal Restoration, they are the Napa River Salt Marsh Restoration, Riverside Ranch Restoration in Southern California, and Salt Creek Estuary Reconnection in Washington.
The immense project at Sears Point involves the restoration of thousands of acres of Sonoma Baylands tidal marsh, along with enhancements to seasonal ponds, drainage and grasslands that extend from the property’s 400-foot ridgelines to areas below sea level.
In addition, the problem of rising sea levels—as much as 16 inches by 2050—will be addressed. This necessitates the building of levees and installation of pumps to protect railroad tracks, Highway 37 and other roads.
Since purchasing 2,327-acre Sears Point Ranch in 2005, the Sonoma Land Trust has been developing restoration plans for the property. To that end, SLT has partnered with more than 40 individual, agency, and organizational stakeholders, including the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Ducks Unlimited, the San Francisco Regional Water Board, and the California Department of Fish and Game.
In a related story, a report entitled “State of the Birds San Francisco Bay 2011,” was released last week. One of the success stories it contains highlights the large numbers of shorebirds attracted to a 320-acre portion of Sonoma Baylands’ tidal marsh previously restored (in 1991-1996) by Sonoma Land Trust and the State Coastal Conservancy.
“The restoration of Sonoma Baylands has enhanced opportunities for San Pablo and San Francisco Bays’ wildlife,” the report says, “especially birds, in ways only dreamed of 30 years ago.”
The new Baylands Center, just off Highway 37, was designed pro bono by noted architect Olle Lundberg. Intended as an education center, it’s only open for seminars and classes. However, people are welcome to walk onto the deck to take in extensive Baylands’ views. A neighboring Fish & Wildlife center is also open during weekday business hours. More visitor amenities are planned for the future.
A good way to explore the area on your own is to walk along the levee trail that runs slightly above the previously-restored 320-acres of marshland. You’ll get wonderful views, spot many bird species, and gain an appreciation for the immensity of the restoration project. The 1.3-mile trail (2.6 miles round trip) is currently an unconnected section of the Bay Trail. When a new levee is built during the restoration, the trail will continue another 2.5 miles.
You can access the trail at Port Sonoma, turning off Highway 37 at Railroad Avenue. Park and walk to the levee trail. It’s open for public use every day.
For more information about the Sonoma Baylands restoration, download “The Sonoma Baylands” PDF.
More on the Obama Administration’s fast-tracking of Sears Point and other infrastructure projects around the nation.