Salty solution for Bay wildlife



If all goes according to plan, the San Francisco Bay will be home to the nation's second-largest coastal wetland restoration project - good news in a state that has lost 90 percent of its coastal wetlands to development.

Agricultural giant Cargill Corporation announced that it will sell almost 12,300 acres of salt ponds to the state and federal government as well as the salt-making rights on another 4,300 acres already owned by the government. According to the deal negotiated by Sen. Dianne Feinstein D-Calif., the state, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and several private foundations will pay $100 million for the ponds. Cargill will also receive $143 million in tax breaks.

The ponds, which have been used for salt production since the 1930s, will be restored and managed by the California Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge. The long-term restoration, which will begin after Cargill cleans up hazardous materials at the ponds, could take up to 50 years and cost between $100 million and $1 billion.

"We're fortunate that we still have these opportunities left," says Marge Kolar, the project leader at Don Edwards Wildlife Refuge. "In the 1960s, there were proposals for housing developments here. If that had happened, these lands wouldn't be restored now."

A special committee of the state's Legislature is currently meeting to scrutinize the deal, which Cargill and Feinstein's office hope will be finalized by mid-September.