Tuesday, September 23, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Fairfield resolves generation-long wetlands dispute

By
From page B7 | January 12, 2014 |

FAIRFIELD — Twenty-eight acres at the northwest corner of Highway 12 and Pennsylvania Avenue sit undeveloped – in part because of a generation-long wetlands disagreement between Fairfield and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

That dispute has finally been settled. The Army Corps recently sent a letter to Fairfield outlining the terms.

“It’s a good resolution of it,” city Community Development Director Erin Beavers said.

But while the site has Highway 12 frontage, it doesn’t have access from Highway 12. Beavers said the state Department of Transportation will never grant such access.

That leaves the main access to the land from Cliff Lane near Enterprise Drive, which is a back door rather than a front door when viewed from Highway 12.

Fairfield’s Housing Authority owns the land. With the settlement in place, it can either use the land for a residential project or possibly sell it for industrial or commercial uses and use the proceeds for affordable housing.

The dispute started in the mid-1980s, when Fairfield used its Redevelopment Agency to build a section of Highway 12 west of Pennsylvania Avenue. That took highway traffic off of West Texas Street and also provided better access to Solano Business Park.

Workers during the project put dirt on the 28-acre parcel. Beavers said that Fairfield believed its permits for the project included that area, while the Army Corps of Engineers disagreed.

The dispute focused on how much wetlands had been on the property before the dirt got dumped there. Fairfield in the early 1990s claimed the site had only about a quarter-acre to three acres of seasonal wetlands and that the dirt didn’t bury wetlands. The Army Corps claimed the site had seven to 10 acres of wetlands and that some got destroyed by the dirt.

Fairfield was notified of the possible violation in 1987.

In 1991, Fairfield wanted to give the 28 acres to the county for county government buildings. In return, the county would let Fairfield merge four redevelopment districts into one.

“If anything is going to squelch this deal, it would be the wetlands,” then-Mayor Gary Falati said.

About eight years ago, Triad development firm looked at building houses there at the same time it considered building houses on part of Allan Witt Park. Fairfield in the end didn’t give permission for the Allan Witt Park development.

The dispute over the wetlands kept grinding on. Figuring out how much wetlands might have once been present at the site proved problematic. Since mitigating for wetlands can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, the issue had a direct bearing on the site’s development potential.

The settlement states that the dirt covers 2.39 acres of wetlands. But Fairfield faces no penalties for the fill.

It also stipulates that 1.06 acres of seasonal wetlands remain on the site. That is how much must be compensated for if development occurs. That’s less than the Corps once sought.

Fairfield has land where it can restore and preserve wetlands to satisfy federal laws. A family in 1997 donated 50 acres to the city in rural eastern Solano County along Highway 113 near Jepson Prairie for a tax write-off.

Or a developer of the property could decide to tackle the wetlands compensation issue on its own.

Either way, the 28 acres near Highway 12 and Pennsylvania Avenue no longer has uncertainty because of wetlands issues. A dispute that has stretched on for a quarter-century is settled.

Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929, or beberling@dailyrepublic.net. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.

Barry Eberling

Barry Eberling

Barry Eberling has been a reporter with the Daily Republic since 1987. He covers Solano County government, transportation, growth and the environment. He received his bachelors of art degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara and his masters degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley.
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