Cargill officials ‘open to all options’ 

Cargill Salt has announced the beginning of the end for 1,433 acres of salt ponds it has owned and operated in the city since 1978, raising questions about what will happen to the prime piece of Bayside real estate.

Cargill plans to shut down the industrial-salt production plant over the next few years as it continues to move all operations to its Newark plant, according to spokeswoman Lori Johnson. Johnson could not say whether Cargill would retain ownership or sell the Redwood City land to the government or a private buyer.

"We’re open to all options," she said.

In 2002, the state and federal governments purchased more than 16,000 acres of former salt-production sites from Cargill for more than $100 million for wetlands restoration. Cargill offered the Redwood City site at that time for an additional $200 million. Government officials declined, but may reconsider if the price drops.

"It was way too expensive. I presume we would be interested" at a lower price, said John Bradley, deputy manager of the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is restoring several former Cargill sites around the Bay Area as well as Bair Island, which is adjacent to Cargill’s Redwood City property.

For now, Cargill officials said they want the public’s input and have sent letters out to every household in the city notifying them of the closure plans. The Friends of Redwood City, a group that successfully fought plans to build high-rise apartment buildings near Pete’s Harbor, has already urged the Redwood City Council to think of the site as a future location for more open space, given its location between Bair Island and Bayfront Park.

"This is the northernmost opportunity to create a wildlife linkage up and down the Peninsula,"group chairwoman Cathy Moyer said. "It’s also a change to gain active parkland, like ball fields ... and to establish wetlands and flood control, particularly for lower-income neighborhoods."

Abbott Labs retains the rights to develop 541,000 square feet of office, manufacturing and warehouse space on a 15-acre portion of the site, according to Redwood City Planning Manager Michael Church.

Meanwhile, it remains unclear just how much cleanup the property will require. At other former Cargill sites, restoration has taken many years and millions of dollars, Bradley said.

At Bair Island, former Cargill ponds continue to pose problems with acidity and dissolved oxygen. While toxic metals do not accumulate in the ponds, the remaining salts must be released slowly and gradually back into the Bay, according to Will Bruhns with the Regional Water Quality Control Board.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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