SFO proposes wetlands restoration for new runways
- Published Monday, December 31, 2001, in the San Jose Mercury News
S.F. airport proposes wetlands swap
Officials would restore island in exchange for new runways
Commissioners at San Francisco International Airport agreed this
month to restore wetlands in Sonoma County if they get permission to
fill part of San Francisco Bay for new runways.
The proposal comes as airport officials look for an environmentally
friendly way to expand the airport's runway system to accommodate
increased flight traffic. Airport officials say their expansion
efforts have not kept up with population growth.
The proposed conversion of a hay farm on Skaggs Island, a former Navy
spy base between Sonoma and Vallejo, into a wildlife habitat would go
some distance to restore wetlands lost to runway development.
"It's a major opportunity to put back some of the more than 80
percent of Bay Area wetlands lost over the last 150 years," said
airport spokeswoman Kandace Bender.
Not all environmentalists are backing the airport's plan.
"The only restoration would occur by destroying another part of the
bay," said David Madland, project director of the Save San Francisco
The Navy took over most of Skaggs Island in 1940. During the Cold
War, spies based there monitored Soviet naval activity throughout the
The Navy finally left the island in 1993, and now what remains is
mostly the native wildlife, which includes an endangered bird, the
California clapper rail, and the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse.
The airport has already set aside $2 million toward the $9.4 million
that the project is expected to cost. The runways at the airport are
50 years old and just 750 feet apart -- less than a fifth of the
distance required by current safety regulations.
While there is no official airport expansion plan, proposals include
extending the runways by filling in between 500 and 800 acres of the
bay. Neighbors, environmentalists and even windsurfers have said that
approach would hurt the bay's ecosystem.
Under federal law, the airport could restore wetlands in one area to
offset the loss of habitat in another. Under new San Francisco law,
city voters could approve or scrap any city-sponsored construction
plans that would fill in more than 100 acres of the bay.