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Cargill Sells Salt Ponds

Cargill announced on May 29 that a "framework agreement" has been reached to sell 16,500 acres of Cargill Salt's San Francisco Bay area property to the State of California and the federal government for habitat restoration.

"This historic agreement will set in motion the largest wetlands restoration undertaken in California history," said U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

The framework agreement, which was announced today by Sen. Feinstein, California Governor Gray Davis and Cargill Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Warren Staley, sets the stage for restoration of a significant amount of the bay front to tidal marsh habitat, which has been decreasing since the California Gold Rush in the mid-1800s. The acquired lands will be permanently preserved as open space and wildlife habitat.

The framework agreement outlines the sale of 16,500 acres of Cargill's ponds, which are used for solar salt production, for $100 million. The property, which spreads across southern end of San Francisco Bay and along the Napa River, includes lands that Cargill owns in fee and areas within the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, on which Cargill owns salt-making rights in perpetuity.

The restoration planning will be led by the Coastal Conservancy, the U.S. Department of Wildlife and the California Fish and Game Commission, and will be a 10-year process, depending on what is decided to do with the property, said Lori Johnson, public affairs manager of Cargill Salt. For creating wetlands, dredging would be needed to reestablish a tidal connection and dredged material would be used to raise the elevation to the level required by a tidal marsh, said Johnson.

The state and federal governments, as well as four private foundations, including the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, would provide funds to purchase the property. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Wildlife Conservation Board appraised the property at $243.3 million. Cargill has agreed to donate all value in excess of $100 million.

Cargill will continue to produce salt at the edge of San Francisco Bay, but on about one-third of its current acreage by using advanced technology and new salt-making techniques. No jobs will be lost as a result of the acquisition. In addition, the ponds used in salt production will continue to provide habitat for least terns, snowy plovers, phalaropes, black-necked stilts and others species that prefer this type of habitat.

The framework agreement reflects the basic understanding among the parties but is subject to the development of a purchase agreement and a final phase-out agreement that will specify the schedule for transferring management of the property to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the State of California, as well as the condition of the property at the time of transfer. The two agreements must be completed by Sept. 16, 2002, and the closing date would occur on or before Dec. 16 of this year.

Cargill owns a clamshell dredge, the Mallard, which is used to maintain the company’s more than 200 miles of dikes. Last year they sold 900 acres to the State of California, along with 300 hours of the Mallard’s time, and the dredge is now begin used to establish tidal connections in that area.

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