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That's no useless salt flat in Imperial Beach

Port and city eye Pond 20 for development/restoration project

Pond 20, north of Palm Avenue
Pond 20, north of Palm Avenue

In a process that has taken 19 years, the former salt flat in the southern part of San Diego Bay near Imperial Beach is finally going to be developed in a plan that combines economic development with nature preservation via an environmental trading process called “mitigation banking.”

The dried-out marsh is a familiar sight to people driving into Imperial Beach on Palm Avenue. The Port of San Diego, which owns the property, along with the San Diego and Imperial Beach city governments, have agreed to create a nature area on most of it while selling a small part of it for economic development.

On November 4, proposals to the port were due from developers interested in creating a restored habitat on 84 acres of the southernmost edge of the bay known as Pond 20, which reaches Palm Avenue and 13th Street just outside Imperial Beach city limits and connects to the Bayshore Bikeway. Port commissioners are slated to choose a proposal on December 8. Two parcels — one of 3 and one of 8 acres — are being set aside to be sold for economic development.

Mitigation banking, according to port commissioner Dan Malcolm, is “something that the Port of San Diego is creating, so this is a brand-new thing.” He described it as “setting up a banking system on the property, restoring the property, and then creating the mitigation bank.”

If a developer's project has negative environmental impact, the developer is mandated to compensate for that impact.

According to Donna Morales, manager of commission services at the port, “Mitigation for impacts to natural resources is a requirement of several environmental laws, including the Clean Water Act and California Coastal Act, and is included in the [Army Corps of Engineers'] permitting process for construction projects. Mitigation generally involves in-kind replacement to support no net loss of resources….

“Construction projects that require mitigation include filling of the bay, constructing or expanding marine structures, shading open water, or impacts to endangered species and their habitats,” Morales explained. What is being mitigated are “impacts to natural resources or bay waters from any in-water construction projects.”

The developer can mitigate, or compensate for the negative environmental impact of a project, by either developing a project with positive environmental impact somewhere else or by buying the credits to land that has already been restored to have positive environmental impact.

These mitigation credits are sold to developers of “any private/tenant development which impacts natural resources,” Morales said. For the two parcels totaling 11 acres at Pond 20, Malcolm said the value is not yet known, but $300,000 to $400,000 per acre is "a really rough range" that could be expected to be paid by developers.

He said a "fairly good profit" could be expected for the city but that it's "way to early to say.” The port has a Pond 20 economic development fund and "any net proceeds are going into that fund" for projects on adjacent land. These funds will be split 50-50 between Imperial Beach and south San Diego, Malcolm said.

Exactly how the nature area will look is not yet clear, said Adam Meyer, the port's program manager. "This [request for proposals] is looking for a developer to help us through that,” Meyer said. “I don't know that there's a formula…. It will be restored habitat.”

Some controversy recently swept Imperial Beach when local households received flyers protesting the plans. The creator of the flyers, Roger Benham, had submitted one of the rejected letters of interest that proposed a dinner-theater tourist attraction modeled after Medieval Times in Buena Vista.

Benham said "this is the biggest decision in Imperial Beach history" and, in his view, it has not received enough public input and it does not include enough economic development. "They have two piddly lots," Benham said. "It will not be economic development, it will be a park bench and a sign." He also charged local nonprofit conservation groups with profiting from the current plan.

Both the port's Meyer and the local nonprofit conservation organization Wildcoast, which is headed by Imperial Beach mayor Serge Dedina, said that no local nonprofit conservation groups have any financial involvement with the Pond 20 plans.

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Pond 20, north of Palm Avenue
Pond 20, north of Palm Avenue

In a process that has taken 19 years, the former salt flat in the southern part of San Diego Bay near Imperial Beach is finally going to be developed in a plan that combines economic development with nature preservation via an environmental trading process called “mitigation banking.”

The dried-out marsh is a familiar sight to people driving into Imperial Beach on Palm Avenue. The Port of San Diego, which owns the property, along with the San Diego and Imperial Beach city governments, have agreed to create a nature area on most of it while selling a small part of it for economic development.

On November 4, proposals to the port were due from developers interested in creating a restored habitat on 84 acres of the southernmost edge of the bay known as Pond 20, which reaches Palm Avenue and 13th Street just outside Imperial Beach city limits and connects to the Bayshore Bikeway. Port commissioners are slated to choose a proposal on December 8. Two parcels — one of 3 and one of 8 acres — are being set aside to be sold for economic development.

Mitigation banking, according to port commissioner Dan Malcolm, is “something that the Port of San Diego is creating, so this is a brand-new thing.” He described it as “setting up a banking system on the property, restoring the property, and then creating the mitigation bank.”

If a developer's project has negative environmental impact, the developer is mandated to compensate for that impact.

According to Donna Morales, manager of commission services at the port, “Mitigation for impacts to natural resources is a requirement of several environmental laws, including the Clean Water Act and California Coastal Act, and is included in the [Army Corps of Engineers'] permitting process for construction projects. Mitigation generally involves in-kind replacement to support no net loss of resources….

“Construction projects that require mitigation include filling of the bay, constructing or expanding marine structures, shading open water, or impacts to endangered species and their habitats,” Morales explained. What is being mitigated are “impacts to natural resources or bay waters from any in-water construction projects.”

The developer can mitigate, or compensate for the negative environmental impact of a project, by either developing a project with positive environmental impact somewhere else or by buying the credits to land that has already been restored to have positive environmental impact.

These mitigation credits are sold to developers of “any private/tenant development which impacts natural resources,” Morales said. For the two parcels totaling 11 acres at Pond 20, Malcolm said the value is not yet known, but $300,000 to $400,000 per acre is "a really rough range" that could be expected to be paid by developers.

He said a "fairly good profit" could be expected for the city but that it's "way to early to say.” The port has a Pond 20 economic development fund and "any net proceeds are going into that fund" for projects on adjacent land. These funds will be split 50-50 between Imperial Beach and south San Diego, Malcolm said.

Exactly how the nature area will look is not yet clear, said Adam Meyer, the port's program manager. "This [request for proposals] is looking for a developer to help us through that,” Meyer said. “I don't know that there's a formula…. It will be restored habitat.”

Some controversy recently swept Imperial Beach when local households received flyers protesting the plans. The creator of the flyers, Roger Benham, had submitted one of the rejected letters of interest that proposed a dinner-theater tourist attraction modeled after Medieval Times in Buena Vista.

Benham said "this is the biggest decision in Imperial Beach history" and, in his view, it has not received enough public input and it does not include enough economic development. "They have two piddly lots," Benham said. "It will not be economic development, it will be a park bench and a sign." He also charged local nonprofit conservation groups with profiting from the current plan.

Both the port's Meyer and the local nonprofit conservation organization Wildcoast, which is headed by Imperial Beach mayor Serge Dedina, said that no local nonprofit conservation groups have any financial involvement with the Pond 20 plans.

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"He also charged local nonprofit conservation groups with profiting from the current plan."

A non-profit group profiting? Isn't that a contradiction in terms???

Nov. 8, 2015

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