EPA: Saltworks project not subject to Clean Water Act

in Community/Featured/Headline

Development proposals for the Redwood City Salt Ponds are not subject to the federal Clean Water Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has ruled. The decision was touted by the property’s owner, Cargill, and its developer, DMB Associates as returning control of the Bay site’s future to local residents and officials.

“Today marks the beginning of that public engagement,” read a statement issued Friday by the campaign representing the owner and developer, called Reimagine Saltworks.  “That engagement will include extensive public outreach through community forums, regional meetings, discussions with local governments, businesses and community advocates.” 

Redwood City Mayor Ian Bain on Friday shared his vision for that site.

“The City Council has not discussed this land in several years, so I can’t speak on behalf of the Council,” the mayor said. “I will tell you that I have heard loudly and clearly from the community that there is strong opposition to building housing on this site. It is not zoned for housing, and I have no interest in changing that.”

Bain said he would like to see Cargill donate or sell the land to an organization that would restore it to wetlands.

In 2009, DMB and Cargill pitched high-density housing at the 1,400 acre industrial salt production site, with over half the property proposed as open space. In the face of community and environmental opposition, however, they withdrew the project and began working on a scaled-back plan.

For any project to move forward, approval will be needed by Redwood City’s council. The EPA’s decision on March 1, however, removed an important hurdle to development.

Soon after withdrawing its initial project, Cargill and DMB asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and EPA for a jurisdictional determination on the property, stating that the site should not be subject to the federal Clean Water Act, which would require special permits.

Last week, the EPA issued its ruling that the salt ponds are not subject to the Clean Water Act of 1972.

“EPA has found that the Redwood City Salt Plant site does not include ‘waters of the United States’ because the site was converted to fast land long before the [Clean Water Act] was enacted,” according to the ruling, which can be read in full by clicking here.

The decision ended ambiguity that kept the property “in limbo,” according to Cargill/DMB.

“This determination does not change what is or is not allowed on the site today, but it does empower the local and regional community and regulators to explore the future of the site,” their statement said.

Longtime opponent of the project, David Lewis, criticized the EPA decision as “completely contrary to the law and the facts.”

“It directly contradicts a conclusion the EPA reached in 2016 after extensive review which found the entire Saltworks site within the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act,” Lewis said.

In 2015, the EPA’s local regional office took over the review of the Clean Water Act jurisdictional determination. Their work and recommendations were not processed before the Trump Administration began office in January 2017, according to Lewis.

Before resigning as EPA administrator under the Trump administration, Scott Pruitt shifted control of jurisdictional determinations from EPA regional offices to his own office in Washington D.C. Lewis believes that decision led to the EPA’s March 1 ruling.

“DMB and Cargill have colluded with the Trump administration to advance its anti-environment agenda,” said Lewis.

Lewis said that won’t be a good look for a project trying to get community approval. The Saltworks project will be up against a community with heightened concern over problems like climate change and traffic, he said.

In their statement, DMB/Cargill said their project would provide solutions to those challenges and more.

“All around the Bay Area the region is struggling to address crippling congestion, dangerous flooding, sea-level rise, housing shortages, and a deficit of necessary open space for parks and marshlands restoration,” the developer said. “This land could contribute to sustainable solutions to these challenges. Currently, underutilized industrial sites and military bases throughout the region are being reimagined to meet regional needs and provide solutions to our biggest generational challenges.”

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with comments provided by Redwood City Mayor Ian Bain.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the EPA decision meant that the federal government would not have a say in development proposals for the salt ponds. Other federal agencies would likely be involved in the review of development proposals.


  1. We need to restore wetlands and provide actual open space for south Redwood City. We also need light rail transportation connecting it to the downtown transit center. The next NIMBYs are slowly killing devlopment of affordable housing and the unfunded pension liabilities are going to kill any public funding to do any, much less all of the above. We he only way to address the issues of environmental and residential needs is to develop that land. Any “environmentalist” who claims otherwise is either deluded or a hypocrite

  2. Mr. Covey please feel free to tell me which of the two you think I am.

    That land should not be developed into a city or a major housing or office development. Light rail, housing density, and pension liabilities have nothing to do with it IMO.

    It really annoys me when people seem to truly believe they can define the arguments in their own terms, as if someone their view is the only possible “truth.” I reject your argument Mr. Covey.

  3. Mr. Covey,

    Your comment reminds me of comedian Buddy Hackett’s one liner:

    “As a child my family’s menu consisted of two choices: take it or leave it.”

    If the only two choices you provide for “environmentalists”, who oppose land development east of HWY 101, is to be regarded as either “delusional or hypocritical”, I’ll leave it.

  4. It makes me laugh every time I hear someone pontificate that we need to fill in the Bay with high-density development in order to provide open-space to the community.

  5. As usual, the vocal “environmentalists” ignore the reality while setting forth an agenda that is counterproductive to their claimed goals. The Saltworks project included developing half the land as restored wetlands; a levee connecting with the Foster City project all the way down to the Don Edwards reserve (protecting all the development along the bay by Menlo Park and Facebook); open space and playing fields; a light rail system running down Seaport to Veterans and ending at the transit hub…. everything Julie, Kris and Mark kep SAYING they support…and it will all be done BEFORE the first foundation is laid for any housing. We all want that stuff to happen. just as long as it isn’t Cargill who pays for it.
    Who does pay for it other wise? Know one really knows. Will it be Redwood City? Not unless they can come upo with $2 billion. The state? The Feds? Yea, right. Maybe in 50 years. Oh, wait! in 50 years all of that will be underwater. So will Kris, Mark and Julie. But the important thing is we stopped Cargill from doing something we need right now.
    You guys continue to shoot your neighbors and yourselves in the head with your thoughtless rhetoric and we can no longer afford to indulge your ravings.

  6. Lou, you can go on your little attack again and try and make a simple minded argument that there is only one way.. Lou’s way. But just because you say it over and over again doesn’t make it so.

    I care far more that we don’t build a huge new city or a huge development east of the freeway, and I don’t care if it takes a decade or even a century to restore the wetlands.

    I’m wondering, by chance, are you being paid by anyone to advocate for a pro development position on that property?

  7. Thank you for asking Barb, I am not compensated in any way by any pro or anti development group or company. I only represent myself here, nobody else. But you already know that and are just being snarky.. you and I worked together on measure W and you remember I wouldn’t even accept a dollar from you. You know first hand how above board I am.

    Now I trust you will join me in asking Lou? After all Lou is professional PR, or at least he used to be.

    • Mark,
      I may have offered to pay for coffee when we met at Summit during the Measure W debacle but I NEVER offered you or anyone money and I resent you suggesting I did.

      Your question to Lou smacks of Say What tactics. I’m surprised he hasn’t been asked how long he’s lived in RWC (it’s longer than you have).

      I know Lou to be a man of utmost character and integrity with unquestionable ethics so no, Mark, I will not join you in asking your ridiculous question.

      Lou is a journalist, communications consultant, and author. Perhaps when “The Stupid Side of Renewables” has a book signing he will autograph your copy.

      • Barb, you offered me a check and handed it to me at Summit Coffee (might have been called something else at the time) on Roosevelt. There is nothing illegal or unethical about it. You offered it as support for the work I was doing for Measure W. Do you remember now? I very much appreciated it, but turned it down. It was very kind of you, as I put a lot of time and energy into that campaign (as did you), but I didn’t want money to influence my path.

        I thought we had a very nice cup of coffee together. I still to this day don’t understand why, just because we might disagree about some things, you feel the need to be snarky to me. Again, I KNOW you are familiar with my character from that time.

        There is nothing at all wrong with asking the question about what people might be paid to do. As you see above, I WELCOME your question where you ask me if I’m being paid. It is a legitimate question Barb.

        I will hope Mr. Covey will answer the question. I trust your opinion of his character, but I would appreciate hearing from him.

        • Mark Fassett,
          I have reviewed my Measure W files and notes and while our coffee meetings are mentioned there is nothing in my notes or any emails that indicates I offered you any money in any form.

          End of discussion.

          • Barb, it’s OK. As always I mean you no ill will and no disrespect, and appreciate the support you offered back then. The specifics are less important than the bigger point.. you know exactly who I am and you know how I try and live with integrity. You know there were people involved in Measure W who were throwing their weight and money around and I was never part of any of that.

            The discussion continues… 😉

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