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November 25, 2008 -- I’m a baitman.  I’ve been a lowly baitman for 38 years.  During my tenure I’ve seen our once magnificent Bay-Delta estuary abused over and over and over again.  Most of those who abuse our estuary could care less about the Delta smelt, the winter-run salmon or the clapper rail.  Greed and ignorance are the most obvious traits of the abusers.  If we were to concoct a recipe for the demise of an estuary, water export would be the main ingredient.

The water grabbers thus get top billing on our abuser list.  Their constant lust for Northern water is unabated.  The consequences for the Bay-Delta Estuary are catastrophic.  These culprits live to the south and they plot daily how they can beg, borrow or steal as much of our water as possible (see: Peripheral Canal).

Now add pollution, both industrial and agricultural, to this recipe that will be a deterrent to us ever again enjoying a pristine, vibrant estuary.  Then mix in an occasional oil spill and a plethora of sewerage spills like we endured in local waters earlier this year.

Another integral part of this recipe for disaster has been the dumping of vast amounts of dredged spoils at three dump sites inside the bay including Alcatraz.  I’ve seen many summers where both San Pablo and San Francisco Bays and the ocean waters far out The Gate were brown due to the massive dumping of contaminated spoils.  

Almost all marine life avoided these waters.  Angling success was an impossibility.  It was front page news around much of the country when between 100 and 150 party boats and private skiffs demonstrated at Alcatraz one weekday morning in the early 80’s.  

The barges came out to do their dumping, but left without releasing the crud when they saw the scope of the demonstration.

Things have greatly improved in this category in recent years.  Limits were placed on the amount of dredge spoils that could be dumped at the sites.  Much of the muck was either taken far out The Gate to an ocean disposal site or used for land fill.

But now comes another ingredient for our path to disaster.  This proposed game plan calls for the excavation of a huge hole in the bay bottom near China Camp to hold massive amounts of dredged spoils that are ticketed for the Hamilton Field Restoration Project.  In other words, the muck will be dumped at the China Camp holding pit and then sent to Hamilton Field.  Like most observers, I’m a big fan of the HFRP.  The benefits for that part of the bay and the resident creatures are tremendous.  

This new game plan, which has been previewed for you here tonight, will undoubtedly save millions of dollars and will hasten the completion of this worthwhile project.

But what about the ramifications for our bay for the next decade while this new plan is in operation.  I’m not a hydrologist or an engineer or an expert on sediment, turbidity or muck.  But I think I am knowledgeable enough to predict with some accuracy the demise of our local waters as a recreational playground if this new plan is instituted.  The expression about “the final nail in the coffin” comes to mind.

I have talked with numerous people far more knowledgeable than myself, including John Beuttler, executive director for the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance.  John calls the project “a potential disaster for all aquatic life in local bay waters.”

This new plan could serve as a death sentence for much of San Pablo and San Francisco Bays, the lower reaches of the Delta and probably some of our ocean waters.

But Army Corps of Engineers consultant Richard Walter says: “The impact on the bay would be negligible.  We don’t find a significant unavoidable impact.” There’s enough baloney in that statement to fill a dozen barges.

I guess Mr. Walter and his cohorts don’t consider excavating this enormous area (5 football fields long and 3 football fields wide) and then constantly dumping the crud which will greatly increase the turbidity of the water for many miles a “significant impact.”  It’s a known fact that all aquatic creatures will avoid turbid waters.

And to make it even worse, the gigantic dump site is right in the middle of “The Sturgeon Triangle.”  This is an area that is home for a vast quantity of marine life and is considered one of the top angling locations in the state.

Halleluiah!  Walter did admit that fish may be affected where dumping of the material is happening.

I would guess that the muddy water that will undoubtedly result from the advent of this new strategy will most likely cause the demise of most local fishing-related businesses.

I believe it is a legal necessity for a mitigation fund to be a part of the environmental review process to take care of a sportfishing industry that will almost certainly be devastated by the start of massive dumping into a 40 foot deep abyss that is used as a “holding area” for the muck that will eventually be taken to the Hamilton Field area.

With abuse like this, no wonder bad news hangs over this once mighty estuary like a black cloud.

Just check the facts.  Endangered species.  Decreasing fish populations.  No salmon fishing.  Constantly revised fishing regulations which restrict the size and take of our prized sports fish and limiting the available fishing locations.  Woe is me!