May. 31, 2002

S.J. working on deal to buy Cargill pond

Mercury News

It's called pond A-18 -- the piece missing from the $100 million deal for agribusiness giant Cargill to sell 16,500 acres of South Bay salt ponds to state and federal governments for restoration to wetlands.

But there's another possible buyer of the 850-acre pond -- the city of San Jose.

City officials have been negotiating for several months with Cargill to purchase the evaporation pond adjacent to the sprawling San Jose-Santa Clara Water Pollution Control Plant in San Jose's Alviso district.

Lindsey Wolf, spokeswoman for the city's environmental services department, said officials hope to have a proposal negotiated for city council review in August.

``We've been working on environmental assessments, making sure no contaminants of concern are on the property,'' Wolf said. Once the reports are in, she said, city officials can get back to Cargill to hammer out a price.

If the price tag matches that of the bigger Cargill deal -- about $14,000 an acre -- pond A-18 could go for around $12 million.

``It's immediately adjacent to the sewage treatment plant, and it's fully contained within San Jose city limits,'' Wolf said. ``It's just a really valuable location for the study of habitat restoration.''

Wolf said the city has no specific plans for the pond. Nor is it needed to comply with federal and state regulations to offset environmental damage caused by current city projects.

``We're just land-banking,'' she said. ``We don't have any mitigation to make up.''

Two years ago, the Santa Clara Valley Water District purchased from Cargill a 321-acre salt pond on the Sunnyvale shoreline for $19,000 an acre.

The district agreed to turn part of it into tidal wetlands as mitigation for environmental damage caused by its stream maintenance program, said Jim Fiedler, chief of the district's watershed management division.

However, that pond is still used for salt production, and district officials are working on a plan to convert it to wetlands, he said.