A groundbreaking ceremony for the three-year-long restoration of the 164-acre Breuner Marsh – a gorgeous coastal area just south of Point Pinole Regional Shoreline – took place under blue skies and on Earth Day Tuesday.
After decades of resisting commercial development of the site, nearly $20 million has been spent or earmarked to revert part of the waterfront property back into tidal marsh, protect and sustain endangered species and to build a 1.5-mile-long path for pedestrians and cyclists that will be part of the San Francisco Bay Trail.
Ten federal, state and regional agencies pledged about $1 million apiece toward the restoration effort.
As part of the project, a breached levee will allow bay waters to flow back in and turn a 23-acre area into marsh. The self-sustaining wetland complex will be able to filter polluted run-off and support native and plant species, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The project is one of the first in the Bay Area to accommodate rising sea levels due to climate change. The wetland project will be designed to withstand a five-foot increase in sea level, said Brad Olson, project manager with the East Bay Regional Parks District.
Jared Blumenfeld, the EPA’s regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest, said the restoration is particularly exciting given that it is occurring in an industrial city like Richmond.
“Don’t ever forget that this is available out here,” Congressman George Miller told a crowd that included a few dozen local youths who took part in nature activities — a testament to future educational opportunities at the site.
While the restoration was billed as a community-wide effort, much credit was given to Whitney Dotson, a lifelong Richmond resident and community leader who, along with his father, spent decades trying to protect the land from development. Congressman Miller suggested the site be renamed “Dotson Marsh.”
Bruener Marsh is named after the owner of a furniture chain store who had previously owned the land.
Over the years there were plans to build a small plane airport at the site, Dotson said, and also a proposal to install two-story factories that would have brought about 6,000 automobile visits to the area daily. He said the pollution would have blown straight to his community of Parchester Village, along with North Richmond communities.
Upscale housing was also pitched, but ultimately the parks district acquired the land through eminent domain and a long legal battle.
“We won,” Dotson said Tuesday. “We absolutely won.”
While the groundbreaking ceremony drew throngs of community members, Dotson said he usually prefers to enjoy the Breuner Marsh site without company.
“The best time to be out here is to be out here alone,” Dotson said. “But if you run into someone, it’s alright.”