Open houses debate fate of Cargill Salt land 

Open-space advocates hoping to see 1,433 acres of Bayfront property currently owned by Cargill Salt converted to parkland may face an uphill battle against public opinion favoring various development options.

Cargill officials announced last June their plans to end their Redwood City operation, which harvests salt from the Bay and refines it for industrial use.

Since that announcement, Cargill has sent out three citywide mailers and received 4,500 replies detailing what residents would like to see on the site. Popular choices include housing, open space, active park space, mixed-use development or possibly a school, according to John Bruno of DMB Associates, the firm handling the public-outreach process. Two public workshops are scheduled for this week.

Representatives with the Friends of Redwood City, a community group that formed in opposition to proposed high-rise housingnear Pete’s Harbor, has urged Cargill to put this land towards further wetlands, according to group chairwoman Cathy Moyer.

However, Cargill remains mum on whether it would be willing to pay to restore the property as open space or whether it hopes to recoup a profit by selling the land.

"It’s way too early to put any kind of financial figures against anything," said Lori Johnson, director of communications for the Cargill Corporation. "We have a track record of contributing to restoration, but this property is different — it was offered to the public before and the public decided not to purchase it."

In 2002, the state and federal government purchased more than 16,000 acres of former salt-production sites in the South Bay from Cargill for more than $100 million for wetlands restoration. Cargill offered the Redwood City site at that time for an additional $200 million.

Officials declined the offer because the deal was too expensive, according to John Bradley, deputy manager of the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay Wildlife Refuge.

"We’re holding these open houses so that we can hopefully understand better what they mean when they say they want housing or open space," Bruno said.

Cargill will hold two open houses on its Redwood City property. They are scheduled for Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Veterans Memorial Senior Center, 1455 Madison Ave. and Tuesday from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Pacific Athletic Club, 200 Redwood Shores Parkway.

E-mail Beth Winegarner at bwinegarner@examiner.com.

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