Federal bay refuge simply is too much


Marin Independent Journal July 29, 2001

 NO ONE should be surprised by the chilly welcome the National Fish and Wildlife Service’s Marin baylands refuge proposal is receiving from local landowners.

Those landowners feel as if they are the target of a bureaucratic sneak attack, where local environmentalists quietly invited the feds and our tax dollars to Mann to coerce landowners into selling their land for a baylands refuge.

Public concern for and protection of the bay’s remaining wetlands is warranted.  Local, state and federal land use regulations, decision makers and, most importantly, voters are already doing a good job.

Local and national environmental groups are already doing a terrific job coming up with the financial resources to save and preserve Marin wetlands.

This proposal to draw a federal boundary around 17,300 acres is simply overreaching, both politically and bureaucratically. Its size is too sweeping, encompassing a giant slice of the eastside of the county, from Tiburon to Novato, and its chilling effect on future development is significant.

Backers of the proposal (and those who initiated the refuge proposal) say this is “a golden opportunity,” where Mann can protect the bay’s eco-system from the pressures of development by giving the property owners a potential buyer —  us, the taxpayers. They add that landowners will never be forced to sell. Refuge backers say landowners won’t even be stopped from developing their property. But they make no promises that they will support development.

In addition, a Marin Baylands National Wildlife Refuge would have tremendous tourism and recreational benefits for this county, they say.

But realistically, the picture is not that rosy.

By simply being within the boundaries, landowners who want to develop would be faced with the Goliath-sized political hurdle of trying to build in a wildlife refuge in a county where development is not often welcomed. The designation alone will be a huge club no-growthers could swing to defeat any proposal.

For the same reason, landowners are worried that by simply being drawn into the refuge they will lose potential buyers who aren’t interested in becoming a ripe target for environmentalists.

In particular, the promising potential of the open lands of St. Vincent’s and the Silveira Ranch in San Rafael of being developed and designed in a way that both answers the community’s need for workforce housing and is sensitive to its landscape would be lost. No doubt, once included in the refuge’s boundaries, development opponents would use its designation as a rallying cry against building anything.

What could happen to the potential of St. Vincent’s/Silveira could become a pattern for other sites.

Worse, landowners feel they’ve been left out of the process; that this regulatory train started and is moving ahead without care for their interests.

The Fish and Wildlife Service cautions it is only in an exploratory stage, that it is studying the physical and political lay of the land. It will be preparing an environmental study that assesses the benefits of various boundary scenarios.

But unfortunately the trenches have been dug deep and a pitched battle has begun. Because of the way this debate has taken form, there is now little room or promise for compromise.

Marin over the years has done an impressive job of increasing public awareness about the environmental value of the baylands and has become a model for protecting them.

We’ve done that without a federal boundary and we should continue that local initiative.


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