August 3, 2008

Bair Island Restoration Continues in Spurts

By Shaun Bishop

In addition, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was expected to have begun sucking dredge material from the waters in the Port of Redwood City and piping it onto Bair Island.

But bids for the contract to remove about 300,000 cubic yards of silt from the port came back at about $3 million -- more than what the corps budgeted for the project, said Joel Pliskin, the agency's project manager.

A request for more funding is working its way through congressional committees as the Army Corps puts out a second call for bids.

That means it likely won't be able to start the dredging until October, Pliskin said. "We've had quite a few hurdles, but I think we're near the end of them."

Officials from the involved agencies said the snags won't necessarily delay the projected completion date, though Stallings said the popular hiking trails on Bair Island will stay closed indefinitely.

Once the work is done, more than 1.5 million cubic yards of dirt will be smoothed over the surface of the island.

Then, levees built in the 19th century will be breached, allowing the tides to flow into the island to create new habitat for local wildlife species, including the endangered California clapper rail and salt marsh harvest mouse.

Stallings said the arrangement with DirtMarket could set a model for other restoration efforts that need large amounts of dirt, while at the same time knocking off a big chunk of the $8 million to $9 million originally estimated to do the restoration work.

DirtMarket charges developers a fee to haul away their dirt from Bay Area construction sites. In turn, the government charges DirtMarket for disposing the dirt on Bair Island. But the work has been somewhat unpredictable.

"One week, they're really, really busy, then the next week they're not," said John Bradley, deputy project leader for the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex. "It's a little bit of an administrative challenge to try to deal with that kind of constantly changing schedule."

Dredging the port should boost the local economy because ships will be able to carry heavier loads in deeper water, said port executive director Mike Giari. The channel, now only 26.5 feet deep, will be at least two feet deeper once the silt is hauled out.

"Some of the ships, not all of them, are having to light-load and it's expensive," Giari said. "With the cost of fuel and everything else, you want to maximize the utility of the ships."