Article Launched: 09/26/2005 06:39:31 AM
Changes for Collinsville?
Industry may Reform Landscape
By Jason Massad/Staff Writer
A boat travels the Sacramento River in front of land that may be developed into an industrial area between Rio Vista and Collinsville. (Brad Zweerink/The Reporter)
Standing near the banks of the Sacramento River near Collinsville, where a handful of houses are slung on stilts beach-style, you can peer out over the brackish water to an entirely contrasting scene.
From this Solano County vantage point, the horizon shows smokestacks of an oil refinery and a marine terminal arcing into the water at Pittsburgh, an industrial anchor of the East Bay.
More than 25 years ago, steel plants, power generators and even Dow Chemical had their eye one the Solano side of the water, in an area still zoned for industrial development near the Sacramento River's deep-water channel.
Those deals fell apart so long ago that no one remembers exactly why. But the result today is clear: an undulating brown landscape in the Montezuma Hills, where sheep and cows graze beneath the gleaming white windmills that dot the landscape.
Change, however, could be afoot in these hills.
Officials with a Bay Area corporation have been discussing with county officials an ambitious proposal on 2,800 acres between Collinsville and Rio Vista to the east that aims to bring in industry with a strong bent toward the environment.
The corporation, One Vision Park, proposes to develop an industrial park, a wharf and a dock on the Sacramento River and a technology park that could be an "incubator" for research and development of new, green technologies, said David Papera, CEO of the corporation, and one of four owners.
The first venture in the industrial park is envisioned to be a bio-waste plant that would divert construction debris and agricultural clippings from area landfills and transform them into 50 megawatts of electricity.
The power from such a plant could be sent to the state's electrical grid via high-capacity transmission lines already used by windmills in the area. The bio-waste to fuel the plant could be delivered to the future wharf along the river.
"Our dream is that it's an alternative energy campus. We're right on the cutting edge. People have been researching some of these things for 20 years and they are ready to incubate some ideas," Papera said. "This could be like Hewlett-Packard's garage."
The proposal has a lot of moving parts, and its components are mostly plans that will take years, if not decades, to develop.
But a couple of heavy hitters - the Sacramento Municipal Utility District and the California State University system - could be partners in the project.
Those overtures have led county supervisors to get involved in ground-floor discussions regarding the proposal. Supervisor Mike Reagan, an advocate for high-paying job creation in the county, likes the possibilities, to say the least.
"Think about what Genentech has brought to Vacaville - a biotechnology cluster," he said. "Think about what it would mean for the county if there were a cluster for alternative energy out there."
The most concrete part of the proposal is an agreement between One Vision Park and SMUD in regard to the land. The arrangement would allow the utility to expand into an area where it has expressed interest
in building more windmills, while allowing future industrial development, Papera said.
Meanwhile, officials with the CSU system, who have met with county leaders, have indicated that they might be interested in 100 acres near a future industrial park and wharf at Collinsville.
An academic center could be used to train students from the California Maritime Academy, which is now facing space constraints.
Engineers-in-training from the system's Humboldt and Sonoma campuses could receive practical knowledge from the alternative energy that could be a hallmark of the development, said Elvyra San Juan, a vice chancellor with CSU.
The system, which has a commitment to alternative energy sources, also likes the energy-focus of the development, she said.
"At this point we see it as a research-type opportunity," San Juan said. "I think we are cautiously optimistic. With this type of thing, we have to be cautious, but if it works out, that's where the opportunity comes in."
Papera, a Napa resident and former homebuilder, says the time has never been more ripe for the green energy that could drive the development near Collinsville.
The proposed bio-waste plant, for instance, would be one of only 90 in the state. A new federal energy bill that provides tax incentives for such projects could help the project pencil out, a key to its long-term growth, Papera said.
"We're thrilled with the new energy bill," he said. "It starts to make plants like these make more economic sense."
But Papera says "it would be sad to just see 50 megawatts of power out there."
He hopes to attract new technologies that are focused on creating industrial solutions for environmental problems - green technologies he says are important to helping the planet.
He cites a friend's packaging business that went bankrupt as an example of the kind of manufacturing he sees in a future park. The plant turned recycled paper, much of which is now sold cheaply to Asia, into custom packing material for Nike shoe boxes, wineries and other businesses.
The packing material is degradable, unlike the more easily molded plastics. And the innovative way the business manufactured the product allowed for more applications than say egg cartons, a paper product.
"If the business would have existed for another two years, it would have been integrated into current technologies," Papera said. "Someone is going to put it all together. I might do it. Whoever does it is welcomed in One Vision Park."
Jason Massad can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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