Planning for sea-level rise raises eyebrows

A regional agency tasked with managing environmental restoration and the built environment along the San Francisco Bay shoreline plans to adopt an updated sea-level-rise forecast this fall, but some agriculture and construction groups are concerned those predictions jeopardize major tourism and commerce thoroughfares as well as their properties.

Abandon Highway 37? Business responds

May 27, 2011

With relatively little public notice, four Bay Area regional bureaucracies, the Association of Bay Area Governments, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the Bay Conservation and Development Commission have come together under the Orwellian sounding [read more]

The San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, a state body made up of representatives from county governments ringing the Bay, in early 2009 floated an amendment to the San Francisco Bay Plan that would update two-decade-old sea-level predictions to account for estimates of ice cap and glacier melting blamed on human activities.

The Bay is forecast to rise 11 to 18 inches by 2050 and 23 to 55 inches by 2100, according to commission staff.

In early May, a group called San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, or SPUR, released recommendations for government agencies to deal with what the group calls unavoidable sea-level rise from climate change. Based on new BCDC sea-level rise forecast maps, the group estimated 99 miles of major Bay Area roads and highways could be flooded from a 16-inch rise, and 186 miles from a 55-inch rise. Affected could be interstates 680 and 880 plus highways 12, 37 and 101. SPUR said Highway 37 should be rerouted via Highway 121.

One of the things put into the draft amendment in recent months is a clear statement that commission's jurisdiction extends only 100 feet from the current Bay waterline and doesn't presume anything outside that limit is included, according to Napa County Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht, the county's primary representative on commission.

"There were accusations early on that this is a land grab by the BCDC to talk about a much larger area," he said. "That was not our intention."

At its Thursday meeting in San Francisco, the commission is set to hold another public workshop on draft amendment. The commission is planning to discuss the draft and public comments received then direct staff to prepare a document for commissioners to consider for adoption in September or October. The commission has considered the amendment at 15 meetings, hearings and workshops so far.

That concerns Wesley "Jim" Haire Jr., whose family has been farming a quarter of Skaggs Island for three generations. The business depends on Highway 37 to truck hay and grain grown on the property to a Petaluma dairy feed vendor.

Some winery owners in the Carneros region straddling Highway 121 between Sonoma and Napa counties also are concerned. Ceja Vineyards President Amelia Ceja said that many of the visitors to the property historically have come north through from San Francisco via highways 101, 37 and 121. Napa Valley Vintners is preparing a comment on the amendment, according to Rex Stults, industry relations director.

Mr. Haire is a board member of the now 60-member North Bay Agricultural Alliance, a group of farmers with land in the area that formed a dozen years ago to battle the commission on a wetlands restoration plan in the same area. The group and Sonoma County Farm Bureau sent comment letters to the commission about concerns over the amendment.

While the bay commission considers the amendment, federal and state species protection agencies have been working to acquire land in the area and create more wetlands.

Mr. Haire said returning the lowlands to mud may help protect airports from migratory birds and aide salmon migration, but money being offered to purchase the land isn't enough to set up farming operations elsewhere.

In conjunction with the Napa River estuary restoration preparations, the state Department of Transportation, or Caltrans, has formed a taskforce to discuss the long-term plan for Highway 37. Under a governor's executive order to state agencies to prepare for the anticipated effects of climate change, Caltrans has been preparing design guidelines for vulnerable roadways.

Four members of North Bay Agricultural Alliance attended a formative Highway 37 taskforce meeting on Mare Island in Vallejo on Tuesday to hear what was in store for the roadway. They heard from Caltrans engineers that traffic and sea-level estimates likely would be considered in 2040 master planning, which may explore raising low sections of the highway from an elevation of six feet to 12 feet, rather than adding condemning property along Highway 121 to add lanes for extra capacity, according to Tito Sasaki, alliance president and vice president of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau.

"BCDC can say whatever they want, but Caltrans has to deal with reality," Mr. Sasaki said about his impressions of the meeting. "We feel somewhat relieved to hear the somewhat more realistic concerns of today versus the green pipe dreams."

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