[Federal Register: January 23, 2004 (Volume 69, Number 15)]
[Page 3387-3388]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Notice of Availability of a Draft Environmental Impact Statement/ 
Environmental Impact Report on the Initial Stewardship Project for the 
South Bay Salt Ponds, San Francisco Bay, CA

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability.


SUMMARY: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California 
Department of Fish and Game are proposing an interim management 
strategy for 15,100 acres of former commercial salt ponds in south San 
Francisco Bay which will be utilized while a long-term restoration plan 
is developed and implemented. This Initial Stewardship Plan (ISP) would 
use existing and new water control structures to release any remaining 
saline pond waters to the Bay and to prevent further salt concentration 
by circulating waters through the ponds. The ponds are located at the 
Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge and at the Eden 
Landing State Ecological Reserve.
    A draft Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report 
(EIS/EIR), has been prepared jointly by the Service and the California 
Department of Fish and Game to analyze the impacts of the ISP and is 
available for public review. All comments received, including names and 
addresses, will become part of the official administrative record and 
may be made available to the public. The analyses provided in the draft 
EIS/EIR are intended to inform the public of our proposed action, 
alternatives, and associated impacts; address public comments received 
during the scoping period for the draft EIS/EIR; disclose the direct, 
indirect, and cumulative environmental effects of the proposed action 
and each of the alternatives; and indicate any irreversible commitment 
of resources that would result from implementation of the proposed 
    Note that the draft EIS/EIR is being submitted for public review 
under separate Federal and State processes. The following addresses and 
due dates are applicable to the Federal NEPA review process.
    Public Meeting: A public meeting to solicit comments on the draft 
Environmental Impact Statement will be held on February 4, 2004, from 7 
p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Visitor Center of the Don Edwards San Francisco 
Bay NWR, 1 Marshlands Road, Fremont, California. Call (510) 
792-0222 if directions are needed. Persons needing reasonable 
accommodations in order to attend and participate in this public 
meeting should contact the Refuge Manager at (510) 792-0222 
sufficiently in advance of the meeting to allow time to process the 

DATES: A public meeting to solicit comments on the draft Environmental 
Impact Statement will be held February 4, 2004, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. 
in Fremont, California.
    For the Federal process, we will accept public comments until at 
least 45 days after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) publishes 
its corresponding notice, which sets the public comment deadline for 
our EIS. In accordance with NEPA, we have filed the EIS with EPA. Each 
Friday, EPA publishes a Federal Register notice that lists EISs 
received during the previous week. The EPA notice officially starts the 
public comment periods for these documents. Therefore, in accordance 
with that process, the EPA notice will announce the closing date for 
receipt of public comments on our EIS.

ADDRESSES: Public meeting location will be at the Visitor Center of the 
Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, 1 
Marshlands Road, Fremont, California.
    Send comments to Refuge Manager, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 
San Francisco Bay NWR Complex, P.O. Box 524, Newark, California 94560. 
Written comments may be sent by facsimile to (510) 792-5828 or by e-
mail to sfbaynwrc@r1.fws.gov.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Questions regarding the Federal 
National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process may be directed to 
Margaret Kolar, Refuge Complex Manager, San Francisco Bay NWR Complex, 
at the above address; telephone (510) 792-0222. Questions related to 
the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process may be directed 
to Carl Wilcox, Habitat Conservation Manager, California Department of 
Fish and Game, Region 3 Headquarters, P.O. Box 47, Yountville, CA 
94599; telephone (707) 944-5500.


Availability of Documents

    Individuals wishing copies of the draft Environmental Impact 
Statement should contact the Service by letter, facsimile or e-mail to 
the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex (see ADDRESSES). 
The document is also available for public inspection, by appointment, 
during regular business hours, at the San Francisco Bay National 
Wildlife Refuge Complex. Copies are also available for viewing at 
public libraries in the cities of Hayward, Union City, San Jose, 
Alviso, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, and Menlo Park. The document may also 
be viewed on the restoration project Web site 


    On March 16, 2003, the State of California and the United States of 
America acquired 16,500 acres of commercial salt ponds from Cargill, 
Inc. The purpose of the acquisition was to protect, restore and enhance 
the property for fish and wildlife, as well as to provide opportunities 
for wildlife-

[[Page 3388]]

oriented recreation and education. Of the acquired lands, 15,100 acres 
are located in South San Francisco Bay with the remaining lands located 
in Napa County in the North Bay. The draft Environmental Impact Report/
Environmental Impact Statement (EIR/EIS) on the Initial Stewardship 
Project of the South Bay Salt Ponds addresses the 15,100 acres in South 
San Francisco Bay.
    Under commercial salt production, Cargill managed the South Bay 
salt ponds as shallow water ponds with various salinity levels. The 
salinity levels varied both geographically, based on the location of 
the pond within the system, and temporally, based on seasonal and 
climatic conditions. Although these ponds were managed for commercial 
salt production, they provided habitat for many water bird species 
including waterfowl and shorebirds. Ponds that were owned by Cargill in 
fee title were closed to public access. Other ponds, for which Cargill 
only held salt-making rights and which were part of the Don Edwards San 
Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, were open to several types of 
public use.
    The restoration of the salt ponds is taking place in three 
independent stages. First, Cargill is reducing the salinity levels in 
the ponds by moving the saltiest brines to its plant site in Newark, 
California. After the salinities are reduced to levels that are allowed 
to be discharged to the Bay, Cargill will no longer manage the ponds 
for salt production. Management of the Baumberg ponds will be turned 
over to the California Department of Fish and Game and management of 
the Alviso ponds and West Bay ponds will be turned over to the U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service.
    In the second stage of restoration, the ponds will be managed by 
the agencies in a manner that provides habitat values while the long-
term restoration plan is being developed and implemented. In this 
initial stewardship stage, Bay waters will be circulated through the 
ponds following installation of water control structures and the 
existing levees will be maintained for minimum flood protection. The 
draft EIR/EIS covers only this second stage of restoration, i.e., 
initial stewardship.
    The third stage of restoration is the actual long-term restoration 
of the salt ponds to a mix of tidal marshes, managed ponds and other 
habitats. The planning process for this long-term restoration has just 
begun and will include a substantial amount of data collection, 
studies, modeling efforts, and public involvement. The long-term 
planning process will include development of a separate EIR/EIS.
    Implementation of the long-term restoration plan is expected to be 
conducted in phases beginning in 5 years, but with some phases 
extending beyond 20 years. Therefore, some ponds may be managed under 
the Initial Stewardship Plan for as little as 5 years, while others may 
require such management for over 20 years.

Alternatives Analyzed

    The draft EIS/EIR considers four alternatives for initial 
stewardship: a no action alternative, a seasonal pond alternative, and 
two pond management alternatives which vary based on the dates for 
initial release of saline pond waters.
    Under the no action alternative, there would be no flow circulation 
through the pond systems. Remaining brines would dry through the 
evaporation process and the ponds would then fill seasonally with 
rainwater in winter. No new public access would be available. No action 
would be conducted by the agencies, including no levee maintenance, and 
some levees would likely fail during this period. The existing open 
water ponds in South San Francisco Bay would be dry during most of the 
    In the seasonal pond alternative, there would be no flow 
circulation through the pond systems. Remaining brines would dry 
through the evaporation process and the ponds would then fill 
seasonally with rainwater in winter . No new public access would be 
available. The only action taken by the agencies would be to maintain 
the levees at their current standard of maintenance to prevent release 
of existing brines, to assure continued public access, and to maintain 
a minimum level of flood control. The existing open water ponds in 
South San Francisco Bay would be dry during most of the year.
    Under the two pond management alternatives, bay waters would be 
circulated through the ponds, the pond levees would continue to be 
maintained at the current level, existing public access would continue 
and the ponds previously kept closed by Cargill would be open to some 
limited public access. The majority of the existing open water ponds 
would remain in open water habitat throughout the year. The two action 
alternatives differ in the timing of the initial release of the 
existing low to mid salinity brines in the ponds.
    In the simultaneous March/April initial release alternative, the 
contents of most of the Alviso and Baumberg ponds would be released 
simultaneously in March and April. The ponds would then be managed as a 
mix of continuous circulation ponds, seasonal ponds and batch ponds, 
though management of some ponds could be altered through adaptive 
management during the continuous circulation period. Higher salinity 
ponds in Alviso and in the West Bay would be discharged in March and 
April in a later year when salinities in the ponds have been reduced to 
appropriate levels. The Island ponds (A-19, 20, and 21) would be 
breached and open to tidal waters.
    In the phased release alternative, many of the lower salinity ponds 
in Alviso and Baumberg would be discharged in July, and the medium 
salinity ponds would be discharged the following March and April. The 
ponds would then be managed in the same manner as in the simultaneous 
March/April release alternative during the continuous circulation 
    The Service invites the public to comment on the draft 
Environmental Impact Statement during a 45-day public comment period. 
The Service will evaluate the comments submitted thereon to prepare a 
Final Environmental Impact Statement. A decision will be made no sooner 
than 30 days after the publication of the Final Environmental Impact 
    This notice is provided pursuant to regulations for implementing 
the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (40 CFR 1506.6).

    Dated: January 12, 2004.
Steve Thompson,
Manager, California/Nevada Operations Office.
[FR Doc. 04-1034 Filed 1-22-04; 8:45 am]