Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Old Base May Serve New Purpose

Old Base May Serve New Purpose
Site Could Become Home Of Delta Science Center | By Carol Bogart | January 14, 2008
Daily Republic

Tom Bland the Community Development Director for the city of Rio Vista stands outside of some of the buildings on the grounds of the old Army Corps of Engineers site, Tuesday January 8 2008. The city has owned the site for about ten years and has plans to use part of it and lease part of the site to the state for delta research labs. Mike McCoy Photo by Mike McCoy

RIO VISTA - A state science center that centralizes Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta field research is edging closer to reality.

In as soon as a month, the Department of General Services, acting on behalf of the Department of Water Resources, may submit the request for funding for its Rio Vista Science Center Field Facility, said John Engstrom of the DWR.

Once funding is approved a 30- to 60-day process provided there are no delays related to state budget shortfalls an architectural firm will be hired to create a proposed design, Engstrom said.

The DWR and the state Department of Fish and Game are the primary agencies that will consolidate their field laboratories at the old Army base site. Rio Vista Planning Manager Emi Theriault said the plan 'makes economic sense. It will be more efficient for them to center their field operations in Rio Vista.'

The state and city are in the final stages of hammering out a Memorandum Of Understanding regarding how they will work together to develop and manage the 28 acres deeded to Rio Vista by the Army.

The site was a U.S. military base for many years. When contaminated soils in the site's boat launch were dredged, an enormous Navy anchor dating to 1913 was unearthed.

During the Vietnam War, the site was used for training because the Sacramento River Delta is similar to the Mekong Delta, said Tom Bland, the city's director of community development.

The site will centralize a collection of smaller, and in some cases antiquated, facilities scattered throughout the Delta, Theriault said. While federal agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may have a presence at the science center, Bland said, state entities will be primary users.

Bland added that the center will bring at least 200 full-time jobs to Rio Vista.

Once the state-hired architect's plan is complete, Theriault said, it will be submitted to the Rio Vista City Council for discussion and a vote. Bland said it's expected that 6-10 acres of the site will be used by the state, adding that once the city knows what the state will build, Rio Vista will plan out the remaining acres.

When the Army deeded the site to Rio Vista, the city agreed to use the site for recreation and public purposes. Some ideas being floated include a city-run interpretive center that might operate cooperatively with the science center to explore the ecology and history of the Delta.

Other ideas include construction of a small lodge/conference center or turning the balance of the site into a city park.

High ground adjacent to Second Street, located between the Marina and the Coast Guard facility, could become athletic fields, Bland said. Part of the property could be used for boat storage. Theriault added that both the state and city would retain river access.

The state plans to berth all of the its Delta research boats in Rio Vista, possibly using an existing building at the site to do boat maintenance, said Bland. The building, located adjacent to the boat launch, was once used to repair military vessels, such as World War II 'Victory' boats, he added. Other old buildings will likely be torn down, he said, except for the site's distinctive water tower.

Theriault said that the city's river access would be used for recreational boating purposes.

Bland said the Army removed contaminated soils and certified the site as 'clean' before turning it over to the city, but Engstrom said the state will do its own site analysis.

The state's Environmental Impact Report, Engstrom said, will include site surveys, soil and other samplings, a study of possible impacts to endangered species and traffic impacts caused by the center and its employees. He added that the site review would take 12 months.

The Army conveyed the site to the city in 1995, and Rio Vista took possession in 2004, said Bland, adding that the city will 'want to get the public involved in the overall plan for the site.'

The Memorandum Of Understanding regarding who will do what was signed by the state and submitted to the City Council in late November, Engstrom said. He expects the city to sign it and return it 'soon.'

Bland foresees an added benefit for Rio Vista once the center opens. Within five years, he believes many of the center's employees may want to cut their commutes and call Rio Vista home. That, he said, could jump-start the development of new homes and generate added revenue to the city from developers' fees.

More money from developers, he said, would allow the city to further improve its portion of the site to benefit Rio Vista residents.

Although to some it may seem that redeveloping the former Army base has taken a long time, Theriault said a painstaking process is appropriate when spending public funds.

Longtime Rio Vista resident Jack Krebs served on the city's Science Center committee for a year and said, 'It's going to make a difference in this town someday.'

Engstrom said, 'We're getting there.'

Reach Carol Bogart at 427-6955 or at cbogart@dailyrepublic.net.

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