Speier blamed Trump for decision made by Obama administration over Saltworks, attorney says

The salt ponds north of Highway 101 and east of Seaport Boulevard in Redwood City. Photo from DMB Associates "Reimagine Saltworks" website.

Daily Post Staff Writer

Congresswoman Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, blasted the Trump administration this week for a ruling by the Environmental Protection Agency that favors the development of salt ponds in Redwood City, but the developer’s attorney says the decision stems from a ruling made during the Obama administration.

In 2015, the EPA received a ruling from the Army Corp of Engineers saying that the salt ponds are not part of San Francisco Bay, meaning they are not subject to federal regulatory agencies.

“It was not until nearly four years later that EPA finally and officially released the (ruling). It is critical to note that the determination made last week was fully consistent with the conclusion reached by the (Army) Corps in 2015 under President Obama,” reads a letter from the attorney of developer DMB Associates, the developer working for the salt ponds’ owner, Cargill Corp.

On Tuesday, Speier went on the House floor to blast the EPA’s ruling late last week that the salt ponds are not part of the Bay. The EPA based its decision in part on the ruling made during the Obama administration.

She said that a draft report done under Obama would have declared that the salt ponds are part of U.S. waters, since the ponds were once part of navigable waters in the Bay. However, that draft was never published.

Speier blamed the Trump administration for the EPA ruling, saying, “I realize that this (presidential) administration struggles to recognize any body of water that is not a murky, scum-filled swamp.”

The EPA’s ruling potentially clears the way for Cargill Corp., which owns the salt ponds, to submit a development plan to the city.

In 2012, the company pulled its proposal to build 12,000 homes. Environmentalists want the ponds to be turned back into wetlands.

A Speier spokeswoman said yesterday that she was not sure if anyone in her office had read the letter yet, so they had no response.

When Cargill pulled its original application, DMB Associates said that it intended to ask the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers to declare whether the agencies had jurisdiction over the property.

DMB’s website says that “a new plan is in the works.”

The following is the letter from DMB’s attorney to Speier:

March 14, 2019

The Honorable Jackie Speier

2465 Rayburn HOB

Washington, DC 20515

Re: Redwood City Saltworks Jurisdictional Determination

Dear Congresswoman Speier,

Thank you for your continued interest in the future of Redwood City Saltworks. We write today to provide additional information related to your comments from the floor of the House of Representatives on March 12, 2019 regarding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (“EPA”) issuance of an approved jurisdictional determination (“JD”). We believe this information is significant and so we wanted to communicate directly with you and clarify the record. We appreciate this opportunity and want to continue what has been a constructive dialog with you regarding Redwood City Saltworks.

Saltworks applied for the JD on May 30, 2012. Given the history and interest in the property, we took an unusual approach of applying both to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (“Corps”) and EPA jointly. We expressly asked EPA to exercise its authority to decide the JD as to the Clean Water Act (“CWA”) at this initial stage so as to avoid potential confusion and delay later in the process. EPA refused our request and instructed the Corps to “proceed normally” in conducting the JD with EPA’s “technical support.”

In May 2014, under the Obama Administration, the Corps District Commander in San Francisco informed us that the JD was being finalized concluding that there is no jurisdiction under the CWA. However, before the JD was issued at that time, Assistant Secretary of the Army Jo Ellen Darcy, appointed by President Obama, ordered a “legal and policy review” of the JD. Assistant Secretary Darcy concluded her review in November 2014, delegating the JD back to the Corps having made no changes in the record underlying the JD.

In February 2015, Senator Feinstein requested a tour of the Saltworks property with senior Corps staff. That tour took place on February 17, 2015, though Senator Feinstein was not able to personally attend. In conjunction with the visit to the region, Major General John Peabody, Deputy Commanding General for Civil and Emergency Operations for the Corps (the second highest ranking officer in the Corps nationwide) also met with the local Corps District staff, the South Pacific Division staff, and representatives of Save the Bay to discuss those groups’ respective views regarding the JD.

On March 18, 2015, Major General Peabody informed EPA’s Assistant Administrator for Water, Ken Kopocis, that the Corps had concluded the JD and was prepared to issue it to the applicant. He stated that the Corps had concluded that there was no basis to exert CWA jurisdiction over the property. He noted his intention to issue the JD the following day, so EPA would have to exercise its “special case” authority that day if it wanted to preempt release of the JD for further review.

Mr. Kopocis responded that EPA was, indeed, invoking its special case authority to review the JD.

Thus, the JD was pending with EPA since March 18, 2015. It was not until nearly four (4) years later that EPA finally and officially released the JD. It is critical to note that the determination made last week was fully consistent with the conclusion reach by the Corps in 2015 under President Obama.

Again, we appreciate the opportunity to clarify and elaborate on the lengthy and detailed process and analyses that eventually produced the JD. Should you have any questions regarding this history, please feel free to contact us.

Looking to the future, we are initiating a broad-based and comprehensive public outreach effort to garner the concerns, priorities, and desires of all regional stakeholders regarding potential future uses of the property.

We very much hope that you and your staff will support and participate in that public process, which is intended to ensure that the future of Saltworks will be decided locally. We believe that a consensus vision for the future of this critical property – in terms of both size and location – can unlock a multitude of community benefits, as opposed to indefinitely remaining what it is today, an active two-square-mile industrial salt harvesting facility behind a chain-link fence.

We appreciate your engagement on this tremendous local opportunity and look forward to collaborating regarding ways this pivotal property may benefit the community in areas such as decreasing congestion, integrating transit modes, natural resource restoration, sea-level rise adaptation, flood control, and housing affordability to name just some of the many opportunities. Should you have any questions or concerns in the meantime, please feel free to contact me ….

David C. Smith