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Port solicits plans to develop marsh, tidal lands near Imperial Beach

Earlier this year, the Port of San Diego sought community input to gauge interest on what, if anything, needs to be developed on a marsh area off Palm Avenue in the South Bay.

The Port received seven proposed plans by the Aug. 24 deadline to develop Pond 20, a 95-acre parcel just east of Imperial Beach in the city of San Diego’s District 8.

Now Port staff is working with city of San Diego staff to determine whether any are viable options or if Pond 20 should remain a marsh and wetland area.

“The Port is working with Imperial Beach and city of San Diego staff and they are considering all options,” Port of San Diego spokesperson Tanya Castaneda said. “If staff comes to a consensus on one or more projects, then those plans would be brought forth to Port Commissioners for consideration.”

Five of the seven proposals consist of similar tidal marsh restorations.

The first proposal suggests that 50-60 acres of this habitat restoration area will be implemented to be suitable for mitigation banking that the Port may envision impacting in its future expansion and development. A portion of the salt marsh would be restored for educational and viewing purposes and an elevated walkway. This proposal also calls for a gateway structure that could act as a place for retail shops. A full cost analysis has not been done but the creators of this plan (AMEC Environmental and Infrastructure Inc., along with Mosher Drew Architects and KTU+A Landscape Architects) said similar scale projects in California have cost between $2.5 million to $5 million.

The second proposal calls for new pedestrian walkways and bike paths, wildlife viewing platforms that comply with the Army Corps of Engineers’ Compensatory Migration Rules for Losses of Aquatic Resources, educational signage and new low sitting walls or benches. A price tag for this plan was not disclosed. This proposal was submitted by a group comprised of environmentalists, community associations and former government officials.

The third proposal would partially restore tidal lands and marsh areas, construct scenic wildlife viewing areas, create a new segment of the Bayshore Bikeway, and include a one-acre commercial area for bike rentals, coffee and refreshments shops, and a restaurant. This plan was submitted by Los Angeles-based real estate firm Charles Company and calls for it to be a public-private partnership but no price was given for the total cost.

The Lakeside Land Co. submitted the fourth proposal. It calls for restoring Pond 20 by creating a private umbrella-type of mitigation bank that would serve to improve the environmental impacts of development projects and create a salt marsh, mud flat and eel grass habitats, and an area for local wildlife to migrate to when sea level rises. In its proposal, Lakeside Land said it would like to purchase fee title to Pond 20 from the Port for $951,300 in cash and would take on “sole responsibility” of all costs associated with its improvements.

The fifth plan received by the Port was from Weston Solutions Inc. It would also like to establish a habitat mitigation bank and restore parts of Pond 20 to include coastal salt marsh inclusive of tidal and emergent wetlands, and enhance public access trails along the perimeter of the site. Weston Solutions believes a mitigation bank to be the highest and best use for the property since it would cost an estimated $11.86 million or $27.25 per square foot and would exceed the estimated current market value for commercial use.

The sixth proposal received was by the San Diego Gaelic Athletic Association (SDGAA), which is responsible for promoting and organizing the county of Ireland’s national games, which include Gaelic football and hurling. The SDGAA would like to either own or lease 20 acres of land for playing fields and a clubhouse facility. The SDGAA would also sub-lease the land to other sports during its sports offseason. No cost or financing plan was given on this proposal.

The final proposal is from Radcor Design and Engineering, which would like to construct a facility for it "Pacific Coast Historical Dinner Show." This concept has been developed over the past eight years after "Medieval Times" and the "Australian Outback Spectacular" dinner shows.

The land would be developed to have an entrance pavilion with retail shops, a 1,200-seat arena and a wave machine, similar to the one in Belmont Park. The plan would take up approximately 25 percent of Pond 20 and calls for private and public financing of $7 million.

Castaneda said the Port started soliciting ideas at the beginning of this year, with three rounds of advertising that consisted of public outreach at community group meetings, workshops in Imperial Beach and email and media blasts.

There is no deadline as to when staff will move forward on the proposals.

"We had hoped a decision whether to move forward or not would be made by the end of this year," Castaneda said.

Castaneda said that if one of the plans was chosen, the Port’s master plan would likely have to be amended via the California Coastal Commission and a full environmental review would take place. A study would also have to be done to determine how much of the 95-acre site is developable on its wetlands.

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