Bay Nature magazineJanuary-March 2007

Dredging the Port of Sonoma

January 1, 2007

At first glance, the wide-open stretch of Highway 37 along San Pablo Bay between Vallejo and Novato may look like a sleepy rural backwater, but the range of wetland habitat protection projects here, combined with open farmland, give this corridor the potential for landscape restoration on a large scale.

However, a new threat has cropped up at the western gateway to this crescent of North Bay open space. Private developer Harvey “Skip” Berg has been dredging the Port of Sonoma at the mouth of the Petaluma River, where he has proposed a North Bay ferry terminal and port. Berg owns the port and has a permit for the dredging, but is dumping the mud on an adjacent piece of property known as Lower Ranch, a 528-acre hay farm just north of Highway 37 also owned by Berg but protected with a conservation easement held by the Sonoma Land Trust. Ralph Benson, executive director of the trust, says the dumping is not in keeping with the agricultural intent of the conservation easement, pointing out that the saline dredge spoils may well degrade the soil at the site.

“We aren’t taking a position on the ferry port as such, but as the Port of Sonoma marina is developed it shouldn’t be at the expense of the protected landscape that surrounds it,” says Benson. Most of the land on either side of Highway 37 from Sears Point Raceway to the Port of Sonoma is permanently protected open space. The land trust is filing suit to stop the dumping. “The issue at stake,” says Benson, “is the enforceability of conservation easements, an effective and necessary tool for protecting our landscapes.” For updates, check www.sonomalandtrust.org.

About the Author

Writer Aleta George trained as a Jepson Prairie docent in 2009. In addition to writing Bay Nature's Ear to the Ground column, she has written for Smithsonian, High Country News, and the Los Angeles Times.

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