PR03: 071

March 6, 2003
CONTACT:    Steve Maviglio
Pat Foulk, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Dick Wayman, Coastal Conservancy

Escrow on $100 million Acquisition Closes; Planning Begins for West Coastís Largest Wetlands Restoration

SACRAMENTO ñ Governor Gray Davis, Senator Dianne Feinstein and Interior Secretary Gale Norton today announced that title to 16,500 acres of salt-ponds and salt making rights had officially been transferred from Cargill Salt to the Department of Fish and Game, and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. The formal transfer of ownership to the public came 10 months after Gov. Davis and Sen. Feinstein announced a framework for the purchase last May.

ìTodayís action is a giant step toward improving the physical, biological and chemical health of the San Francisco Bay,î Governor Davis said. ìThis is more than just a purchase. Itís a commitment to a one-of-a-kind project that will benefit the environment and people of California for generations to come.î

ìThis is an historic and landmark day for the people of the San Francisco Bay Area and California,î Senator Dianne Feinstein said. ìThanks to an unprecedented public-private partnership, 16,500 acres of salt ponds that had been an eyesore in the San Francisco Bay and along the Napa River are now under public ownership, setting the stage for the largest wetlands restoration in our Stateís history.î

ìThe acquisition of these wetlands is a tremendous gift for both Bay Area wildlife and the people who share this natural community,î said Interior Secretary Gale Norton. ìThe Department of Interior is proud to be a partner in such a great cooperative effort.î

Cargill will operate and maintain the salt ponds after close of escrow, until pond waters meet San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board standards for release into the San Francisco Bay. 

The full acquisition price of $100 million for the Cargill properties and salt-making rights includes $72 million of State funds, $8 million from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and $20 million from a consortium of the Hewlett, Moore, and Packard Foundations and the Goldman and Resources Legacy Funds. The private foundations are also providing $15 million toward the cost of initial stewardship and long-term restoration planning.

The planning process that will lead to restoration activities is being coordinated by the California Coastal Conservancy. Central elements of the planning process include numerous public workshops, and the establishment of a technical advisory committee and a national science panel to help evaluate the data needed for decisions about the restoration. A further $20 million for the initial stewardship and planning phase will come from both the federal and State governments to be provided over a five-year period.

ìWe look forward to working closely together with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Coastal Conservancy, and the general public on this important project,î said Bob Hight, director of the California Department of Fish and Game.

ìAcquiring these properties with the State and the foundations has been an amazing example of cooperative partnering,î said Steve Thompson, California-Nevada Manager for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. ìNow with the help of the Bay Area community, we anticipate the upcoming restoration will become a national model for community-based conservation. We are proud to join the Department of Fish and Game and the Coastal Conservancy in bringing back these wetlands.î

The planning phase for the project was launched in August last year when the Coastal Conservancy provided $500,000 to complete project start-up work, including a detailed work program and budget, and development of a public outreach plan and website. Most of that start up work has now been completed.

This past January the Coastal Conservancy agreed to accept $5 million from participating foundations and to disburse these and $2 million of Conservancy funds to undertake the planning process. Estimated to last some five years, the planning process will involve the members of the project team (Conservancy, DFG and USFWS) in close contact with consultants, a range of non-profit organizations, universities, public agencies and members of the general public. 

The San Francisco Bay Joint Venture will assist the project management team with public outreach by establishing ongoing opportunities for public comment and input. Public outreach meetings have already been planned for early April. (Further details are available on

The project design will be guided by technical oversight from a national science panel consisting of seven nationally recognized scientists representing a range of expertise in wetlands restoration and estuarine ecology. A technical advisory committee consisting of recognized local experts on wetland restoration, related sciences and public access will also assist in planning efforts.