Oct. 17, 2002

Nature to regain sports club land

Mercury News

Located on the edge of a South Bay marsh, the abandoned Peninsula Sportsmen's Club was labeled a toxic wasteland nearly a decade ago. Lead shot, clay pigeons and other hazardous substances littered the 41-acre site that lies just south of the Dumbarton Bridge and is considered prime habitat for several threatened creatures.

Now, a long-awaited cleanup is under way. After almost two years of preliminary work, crews are removing brush, debris and toxics as part of a project that aims to restore the marshy bayland to a healthier condition.

Since 2000, more than 2,000 cubic yards of lead, clay and soil have been carted away. This month marks the beginning of a new phase in which crews will excavate the site to eliminate contaminants embedded in the soil.

The former skeet range is in Menlo Park, across the East Palo Alto border and not far from the Ravenswood Open Space Preserve and the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The shooting club leased the land from the San Francisco Water Department from 1934 to 1994, before going bankrupt and leaving its landlord with a poisonous mess. Now, the water department is responsible for the massive cleanup, expected to cost millions of dollars before it is finished next year.

The site does not pose a danger to the public, officials said, but presents an ongoing threat to wildlife, especially shorebirds and ducks that ingest lead shot found in shallow water.

Federal officials are also concerned about protected species, especially the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse and the clapper rail, which are found in South Bay wetlands. So far, neither has been seen on the site.

``The habitat out there is really degraded,'' said Tom Butler, who oversees the cleanup for the Regional Water Quality Control Board. ``There's such high lead concentrations, there's not much wildlife.''

Once restored, the marsh will be left as open space. It is part of the right of way for San Francisco's water delivery system to the Peninsula and South Bay.