October 14, 2008

City Receives Federal Funds to Cleanse Prime Waterfront Site

By Katherine Tam

The $28.5 million needed to clean up groundwater and soil contamination at an old Navy fuel depot to make way for a possible hotel and casino is now in Richmond's hands.

Federal officials have deposited the money into an account for the city, which will be able to access it when the Navy transfers the last 41 acres to Richmond, possibly early next year, according to City Manager Bill Lindsay.

The money represents the bulk of what's needed to clean up Point Molate, a former Navy fuel depot north of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge that operated for 53 years until 1995. Developer Upstream Point Molate will chip in $4 million in cleanup costs and buy an insurance policy to cover unexpected problems that might surface later, said developer James Levine.

"The insurance policy would cover up to $55 million," Levine said, adding that it's unlikely more contamination would be discovered beyond what's already been identified.

Cleanup measures would include excavating and removing contaminated soil and backfilling with clean soil, he said.

The Regional Water Quality Control Board would oversee cleanup efforts.

With views of San Francisco Bay, Point Molate is considered one of Richmond's best waterfront properties, which could become an economic engine for a city struggling to fund basic public services such as road repairs.

The city already secured the deed to most of the land from the Navy and sold it to Upstream for $50 million. But the 41 acres that officials want from the Navy are the primary parcels where redevelopment would happen.

The city already has the deed to more than 85 percent of the land needed, which is mostly hillside property.

Once the land is cleaned, Upstream plans to leave most of it as open space and add a biking and walking path that would become part of the regional Bay Trail.

It intends to partner with the Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians and the Rumsey Band of Wintun Indians to develop a $1 billion casino resort with 1,100 hotel rooms, a 2,500-seat performance hall, a convention center and retail on the rest of the land. Buildings that make up the historic Winehaven District would be restored and house gaming, restaurants and stores.

Some residents welcome the jobs and revenue the project would bring. Others fear a casino would increase crime and say it is not the kind of business Richmond needs.

The draft environmental impact report is expected to be released before the end of the year, Levine said. Public hearings likely would follow early next year.

Before gaming debuts at Point Molate, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Gov. Schwarzenegger must sign off on the land transfer and gaming agreement. And the federal Department of the Interior must declare Point Molate "restored Indian lands."

Reach Katherine Tam at 510-262-2787 or [email protected]

Originally published by Katherine Tam , West County Times.

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