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Fish Wrap: Big bay dig a pig in a poke?

by Nels Johnson http://www.marinij.com/sports/ci_10919494

Article Launched: 11/06/2008 06:00:15 PM PST

THE BUREAUCRATS call it an "aquatic transfer facility," but it's really a plan to dig a huge hole in the middle of San Pablo Bay and dump dredge spoils there, then pump the material to Hamilton Field where a 2,500-acre wetland restoration project is under way.

For the past year, barges have been shuttling dredge spoils from Oakland to a transfer station off Hamilton, where the sediment is pumped to the wetland project. The job will take 18 years - unless officials switch gears, dig a 33-acre hole in the bay and allow barges to dump the dredge spoils there without waiting to offload at the transfer station as they now do. The muck that collects in the big bay hole would then be pumped to Hamilton. The hole would be 1,500 feet long, 1,000 feet wide and up to 40 feet deep.

Allowing barges to come and go, dumping spoils as they please, rather than linking up with the transfer station, would enable completion of the restoration project in 10 years - and save $200 million, according to an Army Corps of Engineers study.

The problem, of course, is that dumping dredge spoils willy-nilly and allowing the material to settle into the huge hole would cloud the water with sediment for a decade, disrupt fishery habitat over a wide area and kill the bite, to say the least. Longer range, the massive Hamilton wetlands restoration project will be a terrific boon for the bay fishery, birds and other marine life.

The big bay dig is raising a few eyebrows in the fishing community who wonder if the end justifies the means.

"It could absolutely wipe out that end of the bay," said Loch Lomond Marina bait dealer Keith Fraser. "It has the potential to be a disaster."

Fraser, who says he needs to find out more, plans to attend a public hearing planned by the Corps of Engineers from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 12, at the Bay Model in Sausalito. He urges others to be there, too.

Joe Carlomagno of Novato, who runs the San Francisco Fire Department's children's fishing program, shares Fraser's concern.

"I am in favor of expanding our wetlands, but not at the expense of endangering the fish population," he said in a letter to the corps. "Don't dig a huge hole in their habitat."

Copies of the U.S. Army Corps study on the big bay dig are available at the Marin Civic Center and Novato public libraries.