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SMART Acquires 56 acres to Restore and Preserve

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SMART Acquires 56 acres
to Restore and Preserve

By Farhad Mansourian

Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) announced today that it has acquired more than 56 contiguous acres of property in Marin and Sonoma counties, commonly known as the “Mira Monte Marina”, to be preserved, enhanced and restored as part of its environmental mitigation program.

“This is a win-win-win that we’ve been pursuing for quite some time,” stated SMART board chair and Marin County Board of Supervisors president Judy Arnold.  “It delivers substantial savings for SMART’s taxpayers compared to typical “mitigation bank” purchases, it protects and restores an incredibly important and sensitive environmental habitat to create a continuous wildlife corridor and it does it all locally – local dollars are being invested to do environmental enhancement 100% within the project area.”

SMART will restore approximately 5 acres of tidal wetlands and wildlife habitat and enhance an additional 10 acres. This will not only address the 2.2 acres of project impacts that were determined through the environmental review process for the next stage of construction, but ensures a local source for potential future mitigation needs for the rail and pathway project.

The purchase also permanently preserves 38 additional acres of tidal wetlands and habitat that is home to a variety of protected species, including rare upland habitat that was once a bay island and is critical in protecting native species in the event of sea level rise.

Mira Monte Marina Aerial View

 

“I can’t overstate how excited I am about this and about how SMART has prioritized local environmental restoration,” said Barbara Salzman, president of the Marin Audubon Society, adding, “The environmental community has been trying for years to preserve the Mira Monte property and protect it from development. The project will restore tidal wetlands in a very critical area, and also connects to and expands the largest and least disturbed remaining tidal marsh in the state.”

Positioned at the confluence of San Antonio Creek and the Petaluma River, the property consists of 32.23 acres in Marin county and 24.55 acres in Sonoma county, with a purchase price of $2.55 million.  It is located between the SMART right-of-way and the Petaluma River in an area starting in northern Novato adjacent to the Burdell Ranch conservation area and just south of the Redwood Landfill.

“This is a key piece of the Petaluma Watershed,” noted SMART director and Sonoma County Board of Supervisors chair David Rabbitt. “I am especially pleased by the size and quality of this single property, since opportunities for wetland mitigation are very scarce within the North Bay and competition for mitigation bank purchases can drive costs to as high as $1 million per acre.   Many projects end up fulfilling their offset needs far outside the project area and in a piecemeal fashion.” 

Bill Kortum, founder and current board member of Sonoma County Conservation Action noted the broader context of adding the Mira Monte Marina parcel to the 2000-acre protected tidal marsh system. “The historic Petaluma Marsh is the largest intact upland marsh remaining in San Francisco Bay, which has never been diked. The Mira Monte wetlands are an important piece of the whole system.”

The environmental benefits resulting from restoration and enhancement of the Mira Monte property and its addition to the protected Petaluma Marsh include:

- The protected acreage for tidal marsh species such as pickleweed, cordgrass, alkali bulrush and saltgrass will be expanded.

- Restoration of tidal marsh and transitional wetlands will benefit clapper rail, black rail and the salt marsh harvest mouse.

- The adjoining creek and marsh are nursery habitat for salmon, steelhead and the starry flounder.

- The area is also used by migratory waterfowl and shorebirds, especially during fall and winter months.

- The combination of upland, tidal and seasonal wetland habitats is ideal for supporting a diverse array of plants and animals; having the uplands will improve conditions for rare high marsh plant species.

- Upland habitat adjacent to wetlands allows for buffering against sea level rise. The SMART train and pathway project is currently under construction and will provide a new regional transportation backbone with improved transit options for all North Bay residents.

Sonoma Marin Area Rapid transit