Friday, April 20, 2007

Rio Vista Mulls Plans for Old Base

Rio Vista Mulls Plans for Old Base
By Ben Antonius

Christine Baker/Daily Republic Rio Vista has been working with the Department of Water Resources to locate a delta research center at an old military installation near the city, part of which is shown in this photo.

RIO VISTA - For a city that waited eight years to buy the old Rio Vista Army Reserve Center, waiting another few years to put something on it might not seem so bad.

City leaders in the Delta town have at long last entered serious negotiations with a consortium of state and federal agencies that is hoping to build a major research center at the base, along the bank of the Sacramento River.

If it happens, it would be a major change at the site, a fixture in the city in some form for nearly a century.

It could also bring a wealth of jobs and open the remainder of the base for further development.

"I won't make a prediction when we might see something there but I do think it will happen," Councilwoman Jan Vick said. "It's just one of those things that has a long road to get there."

The plan

At issue is a tentative proposal to build a 100,000-square-foot research center on the base, which would employ as many as 160 researchers from the Department of Water Resources, the Department of Fish and Game, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Reclamation.

The Bay-Delta Science Consortium does water quality studies and other research work in the Delta. It has staff and research boats based in several locations, including Sacramento and Stockton, said Jerry Johns, deputy director of Water Resources Planning and Management with DWR.

"There's a fair amount of effort that goes on in the Delta (and) we have been looking at this to coordinate the mission so we don't bump boats," he said.

The move could allow them to consolidate space in one facility and, because the base is astride the Sacramento River, would give their research boats quick access to the Delta. And Rio Vista seems to be a convenient location in relation to the rest of the Delta, he said.

"A lot of the work we do is in the interior Delta and also in the Suisun Bay area," he said. "It would make the travel time, we think, better for our staff."

Other plans

If the research center project happens, there would still be significant questions about long-term plans for the base.

At most, the consortium would need to lease about half the 28-acre facility, Rio Vista Mayor Eddie Woodruff said, which raises the question of what to do with the other half.

The placement of the center on the site will be one factor in narrowing the choices.

The terms of the lease and the amount of infrastructure the state is willing to install will be the bigger factors, he said.

"Like a lot of cities right now, we're not in a position to spend a lot of money on it," he said.

"That's why were depending on . . . being able to generate some funds and some capital improvements to make it happen."

Vick said there have been many ideas over the last decade. Those have included a hotel and conference center, a new boat ramp and a park with softball and soccer fields.

There wasn't much developer interest in the hotel and conference center when it first came up, Woodruff said.

That may have changed, but for it to happen, there would probably need to be some infrastructure improvements.

Right now, the way to the base is a small, poorly marked two-lane road with speed bumps that dead ends at nearby Sandy Beach Park.

A park would not need as many improvements, but the base is outside city limits and "the location with relation to the rest of the population might be a question," Woodruff said.

A long wait

The start of negotiations is a good sign, officials said, but doesn't necessarily mean anything is imminent.

The talks are still early, and there are major issues to be hammered out: How much space the research facility would need, where on the base it would be, what infrastructure it would need and how much the lease would cost.

If there are more delays, it would be nothing new for Rio Vista, which has hosted the small base since it was established in 1911.

"By its nature (working with state and federal agencies) is somewhat deliberative and that tends to make things a little slower," Woodruff said. "It is different than being in the real business world."

Until 1995, the military owned the 28-acre site and at various times used it as a base for Delta engineering projects like levee repairs and then for training by the Army Reserves.

The reserves had mostly stopped using the place by the 1980s, and in 1995 it was closed by the federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission.

But even after it was slated to be closed, it took the Army nearly eight years to clean up the polluted site well enough that it could be sold to the city. Rio Vista ultimately paid about $30,000 for the site in 2003, around which time it first started talking about bringing in a research center.

"I remember when we got this land I could imagine my daughter playing soccer and softball on it and now she's gone away to college," Woodruff said.

"But I still have a grandson."

Reach Ben Antonius at 427-6977 or

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