Purchase of bay salt ponds for restoration takes step forward

The Associated Press
Monday July 15, 2002

SAN JOSE— The company that is selling land around the San Francisco Bay to the government for wetland restoration said it has seen the appraisal of the land, although the deal is still in negotiations. 

Minneapolis-based Cargill Salt struck a deal to sell 16,500 acres of salt ponds to the government for $100 million, but the state and federal governments have refused to release the appraisals of the land. 

But some now say that the fact that Cargill has seen the government’s appraisals means the public should also be allowed to see them to determine whether price is fair. 

“It’s normal for a public agency to not share its appraisals with the other side in a land sale so they can bluff on the price the same as the other side,” Terry Francke, general counsel for the California First Amendment Coalition in Sacramento told the San Jose Mercury News. 

“When that isn’t the case, all the rationale for confidentiality disappears.” 

Cargill and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service each did an appraisal, and the state Wildlife Conservation board reviewed both. The two agencies settled on a $240 million price, announced by Gov. Gray Davis, Cargill and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who led the negotiations for the land. 

But details about price and the land conditions haven’t been released. 

The plan to buy the salt flats, which date back to the 1850s, pools money from state and federal governments, as well as four private foundations. The land will be turned back into habitat for both endemic species and migratory birds flying between Alaska and the tropics.