July 19, 2008

Park Begins Second Phase of Giacomini Wetlands Project

By Rob Rogers, The Marin Independent Journal, Novato, Calif.

Jul. 18--The latest stage of the $5 million effort to turn the former Waldo Giacomini Dairy near Point Reyes Station into a 550-acre wetlands wasn't scheduled to begin until late this week.

But time and tide wait for no one, and a seven-foot tide July 1 broke through one of the levees surrounding the former pasture, creating unexpected problems for project workers.

"We went out there andethere was a three-foot leopard shark just doing its thing," said John Dell'Osso, chief of interpretation at the Point Reyes National Seashore. "I wasn't quite ready for that."

Dell'Osso estimates between six and 12 sharks and several bat rays swam through the six- to eight-foot gap in the wall and remained in the shallow water. Park workers scrambled to rescue the fish before the newly-created pond dried up, using nets and coolers to carry the sharks back to the bay.

"It's inspiring to think how quickly that could revert to estuarine habitat," said Todd Steiner, director of the Salmon Protection And Watershed Network, who praised the Park Service for creating an environment in which salmon and other fish will be able to live and grow.

The effort to create the largest wetlands preserve on the California coast began in September 2007 with the destruction of the former dairy barns near C Street in Point Reyes and the demolition of part of the levees north of Lagunitas Creek.

On Wednesday, the Park Service will begin the second phase, with workers from Sonoma-based contractor Hanford

ARC hauling 29,000 cubic yards of mud and dirt from the property to two former quarries off Pierce Point Road and Sir Francis Drake Boulevard within the National Seashore.

"One concern the local community has is the 8,000 truck trips planned to come out to the point and fill in the quarries," said third-generation rancher Kevin Lunny, who operates a grading and paving business. "Part of the problem is that they're killing the quarries, which will affect the viability of the ranches that depend on this rock."

Yet project manager Lorraine Parsons said that filling in the quarries has always been part of the Park Service's plan for the property.

"The quarries were administratively closed in 1991, but there hasn't been a way to restore them until recently," Parsons said. "This is part of the larger restoration effort for the quarries."

The noise, traffic and dust from the project's first phase also disturbed some Point Reyes neighbors. Artist Inez Storer said the Park Service has been more responsive to neighbors in recent months, although she still has concerns.

"It's not as acute as it was in the beginning," said Storer, whose studio is across the street from the former dairy. "They've changed their tune. Yes, people are going to suffer again from allergies, and we could probably go and get a lawyer. But the park has just become this overwhelming entity, and people love wetlands. It would be like going against God and the Vatican, and I don't want to do that."

The Park Service has scheduled construction hours from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and has limited the daily number of truck round trips to 40. Contractor Hanford ARC will use biodiesel-fueled trucks for its hauling and will both sweep and water streets near the construction area. The park anticipates some traffic delays along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in Inverness Park and noise impacts to residents in Point Reyes Station.

Between now and Nov. 30, workers will take down the levees protecting the east and west pastures of the Giacomini Ranch and lower the berm in the southern pasture. Workers will also continue to remove ditches, pumps, culverts and other agricultural equipment from the former farm, and will realign Tomasini Creek to its former pattern, in hopes that salmon, steelhead and other fish will take advantage of the restored waterway.

"Most of the work will probably go until October," Dell'Osso said. "As we get later into the winter, there are issues with the migrating of coho salmon and steelhead trout."

Contact Rob Rogers via e-mail at [email protected]


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