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Milestone for Redwood City's Bair Island restoration
April 23, 2013, 05:00 AM By Michelle Durand Daily Journal

Michelle Durand/Daily Journal Residents and advocates for renovating Bair Island in Redwood City got a sneak peak at the opening of a new pedestrian bridge connecting the parking lot to the levee and public trail.

Michelle Durand/Daily Journal Birds take flight at Bair Island in Redwood City Monday morning adjacent to the reopened trail.

Local officials and citizens who for decades fought off shoreline development and encouraged the preservation of Bair Island wetlands walked onto the project’s new footbridge yesterday, one of the final steps toward total restoration of the protected land and the first public peek at more than five years of work.

The $4 million pedestrian bridge connects the parking lot to the levee trial on the island and renovation advocates said yesterday it is a significant milestone for those who worked tirelessly for its return to before the marsh area was drained for hay farming.

“It was thrilling,” said Florence LaRiviere, a longtime environmentalist who helped create and expand the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge including the Bair Island Ecological Reserve, of her first steps through the gate onto the bridge.

The water around Inner Bair Island was still — aside from flocks of birds but lots of oohs and plenty of aahs joined them in the air as a small crowd armed with binoculars, cameras and palpable enthusiasm stepped on a now-open public trail for the first time since the 2007 closure. The remaining restoration of Bair Island, complete with public trials, viewing platforms and interpretive displays, is anticipated for later this year or early 2014. The renovation will also include upgraded parking with rest room facilities to allow school buses to park for field trips.

But yesterday, the focus was on the small section of Bair Island just past the bridge known as Area D and also on the effort of dedicated citizens like LaRiviere and Ralph and Carolyn Nobles to spare Bair Island from development. The Friends of Redwood City fought against the 1982 proposal by Mobil Oil to build 20,000 homes, a shopping center and office complex on the island. A voter referendum overturned the Redwood City Council’s approval by only 42 votes out of nearly 18,000 cast but their work was not done. Seven years later, the land was sold — leading to new development worries until the Peninsula Open Space Trust purchased it for $15 million for addition to the refuge.

“It’s hard to imagine you’ll be successful,” LaRiviere said of her feelings at the beginning of the effort.

Just as the task to approve renovation was huge, the actual work is no small feat, either. Approximately 1.5 million cubic feet of soil was trucked in to serve as the plants’ foundation and raise the elevation 2 feet. Some of the infill was trucked in from other projects, like Hetch Hetchy and the Port of Redwood City, which saved money in the multi-million dollar undertaking.

When done, the entire hydrology of the area will have shifted and birds long gone will return, said Refuge Manager Eric Mruz.

The existing dredge material is too salty for most plants so testing is underway to establish the best way of restoring the pH balance.

With climate change and rising tides, the window to restore wetlands is now, said Doug Cordell, spokesman for the refuge complex which is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“It’s imperative we take advantage of it,” he said.

The project benefits everyone, even those who don’t visit Bair Island, because the renovation improves water quality, helps stave off flooding and the recreation opportunities provide economic benefits, Cordell said.

(650) 344-5200 ext. 102.



Tags: island, renovation, million, refuge, san francisco bay national wildlife refuge, bair island, friends of redwood city

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Milestone for Redwood City's Bair Island restoration

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