Novato wetlands project cleared for $5.7M infusion

Jan 2, 2019 at 2:00pm

By Will Houston, Marin Independent Journal

A habitat restoration project seeking to restore nearly 1,600 acres of wetlands near Bel Marin Keys in Novato advanced this month with the approval of a $5.7 million state and federal agreement.

Under the agreement, the California Coastal Conservancy and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are slated to bring dredge materials to three Bay Area restoration projects, including to what will be the largest portion of the nearly 20-year-old Hamilton wetlands restoration project.

Authorized by Congress in 1999, the state and federal project has restored close to 1,000 acres of ecologically valuable tidal marshlands at the Hamilton Air Base as of 2014. The land had been diked and drained about 150 years ago to allow for agricultural development, as has happened with much of the state’s wetlands. As a result, much of the wetlands near Bel Marin Keys had subsided, causing the loss of wildlife habitat.

The “Bel Marin Keys Unit V” phase of the Hamilton project is one of three restoration areas, the other two being the already completed Hamilton Air Base portion and smaller the North Antenna Field.

The Bel Marin Keys portion, owned by the conservancy, is by far the largest at 1,576 acres. When the project is finished, there will be 2,600 acres of contiguous wetlands that can serve as habitat for the federally endangered Ridgway’s rail and the salt marsh harvest mouse.

Like the air base restoration, the Bel Marin Keys project plans to use dredge spoils — about 9.5 million cubic yards’ worth — to construct the tidal wetlands.

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