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Levee changes, ecosystem restoration project imminent along Bayfront

 

While Menlo Park continues to work on formulating plans for the future of Bedwell Bayfront Park, changes along the Bayfront in the near future – as soon as June – are expected to start as the result of ongoing efforts to bolster flood protection and restore salt evaporation ponds to their former state as tidal marshes.

History

Bedwell Bayfront Park hasn't always been the quiet, grassy escape it now represents to many locals. It was the site of the county dump, but was slowly converted, between 1982 and 1995, into a park.

Infrastructure has been added to burn the methane that is generated by the decomposing refuse beneath it. In addition, Menlo Park's Bayfront area is home to salt evaporation ponds operated by Cargill Inc.

In 2003, Cargill sold 15,000 acres of its former salt extraction property in the South Bay to state and federal agencies and private foundations for the purpose of wetland restoration.

Restoration

According to John Bourgeois, executive project manager of the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project, completing large-scale restoration in the area is difficult because it is a "dense urban estuary." There are many factors that complicate the conservation process, he said.

The area is vulnerable to flooding, he said, because a major roadway (Bayfront Expressway) is close to the Bay, with Facebook's headquarters, PG&E and sewage treatment facilities nearby.

Furthermore, the salt ponds are home to protected wildlife, which require extra precautions. During the years the area was dominated by Cargill's salt ponds, the Western snowy plover, an endangered white bird that traditionally nests on beaches, mistook the crusty salt flats as sand and established nests there. For that reason, simply eliminating all salt ponds is not recommended by ecologists.

From the vantage point of his agency, Mr. Bourgeois said, the organization has three goals: to restore habitat, provide flood protection, and enable public access and recreation.

To do that, the salt pond restoration agency will take a number of actions in Menlo Park near or at Bedwell Bayfront Park. It will:

• Raise levees. Existing levees that run north-south along and diagonal to Bayfront Expressway, and one levee running between two of the salt ponds will be raised 5 to 6 feet, Mr. Bourgeois said. The levees will be part of the Bay Trail and will be publicly accessible.

• Restore a salt pond to a tidal wetland. One of the salt ponds farther into the Bay will be converted back to a tidal marsh by breaching some levees.

• Create a new park entry. Right now, according to Mr. Bourgeois, a person trying to cycle from Facebook to the park has to ride all the way to the park's Marsh Road entrance. The new entrance will be marked with a gate near where Chilco Street and Bayfront Expressway meet, on the Bay-facing side. Access from Facebook and residential areas of eastern Menlo Park could also be improved by a separate project funded by Facebook to build a bike and foot bridge to connect Facebook's campus to the Bay Trail across Bayfront Expressway. The bridge would end near the new park entrance.

• Leave a salt pond intact. The pond that is closest to Bayfront Expressway will be left intact as a habitat for snowy plovers.

• Manage smaller ponds. Smaller ponds near the park's entrance will be managed as a habitat for water birds.

• Add educational features. At a vista point where the different ecosystems of the area are visible, an educational plaque may be installed to explain to visitors the park's history.

The project is funded by a variety of state and federal grants. The agency plans to seek further project funds from Measure AA, a $12 per year parcel tax measure passed last November and earmarked for wetland restoration.

Work on the project could start as soon as late June, he said. The agency is working with the city of Menlo Park on traffic planning and outreach.

Related story: What's ahead for Bedwell-Bayfront Park?

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