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February, 2007


Skeptics Journal
Handshakes and Hindsight
By Jeanette Pontacq

The January 25 meeting at the Point Reyes National Seashore's Red Barn, which was advertised as an informational meeting regarding the results of the draft EIR done on the restoration of the Tomales Bay wetlands, turned out to be well-attended by locals. Although the meeting was about the new Environmental Impact Report, the most interesting aspect of the EIR was not discussed.
The most interesting aspect was that the meeting took place at all. At the last public meeting at the Red Barn on the issue of the wetlands' restoration, both Superintendent Don Neubacher and the Sierra Club's Gordon Bennett repeatedly pointed out that no EIR could be accomplished without there first being a completed land swap between the Park and the Giacomini Trust.

Said land swap, of course, is a code word for the Park Service unequally trading prime land (to build out the town over the wetlands) along 3rd Street in Point Reyes Station --- purchased within the $4.5 million public buy-out of the ranch in order to restore the wetlands --- for two small parcels off Inverness.

The Park Service originally told opponents of the land swap that it was just an error that they didn't include the Inverness-side parcels in the original deal. These two particular parcels, by the way, will be underwater when the dykes and levees all come down, which suits the eventual restoration of the wetlands on Tomales Bay, but doesn't do much for a logical sale price for those ready to buy the parcels for the Park to avoid the land swap. Realists have asked why the Park Service is bothering to exchange or buy those so-desired parcels? Just let Tomales Bay flood 'em once the protective levees and berms come down!

Gordon Bennett was so adamant that opponents of the land swap were "endangering the very continuance of the restoration of the wetlands, as no EIR could be prepared without the land exchange," he followed one opponent outside to his car to urgently press his case. Mr. Bennett seems to take cues from Park talking points on a number of issues, so it is now doubly difficult to understand why that particular argument was made to try to deter opponents of the land swap, when the EIR must have already been in the works at that time.

The fact that a non-truth was being used as an argument for the land swap does not give locals a lot of confidence in being really heard by Park officials when they say they don't want this land swap. As to the accusation that this land swap was discussed and agreed upon between the Park Service and the Giacomini Trust at time of sale (and hidden from the public), Superintendent Neubacher has the following written comment: "No, a land swap was not written into the original purchase. However, the NPS did express its intent to acquire the western properties or exchange the properties with the Giacomini Trust because of the critical nature of these parcels to the overall restoration project. The NPS also stated its interest and intent during the public review process for the proposed land exchange."

OK, he doesn't want to call it a land swap, so we shall call it what he calls it, a "land exchange." As he states, the "land exchange" was indeed discussed and agreed upon between the Park Service and the Giacomini Trust at time of sale. Since the sale officially took place in 2000, and the public review process was in 2006, the public was kept in the dark for at least six or more years.

Since the accusation is now admitted to, further questions needs to be posed:

1) why were these "critical parcels" not included in the original deal? and

2) why were state and federal funds used to buy properties along C Street in 2000, when the stated intention was to later exchange them for the soon-to-be-underwater parcels off Inverness? None of this makes any sense unless negotiator Gary Giacomini just ran rings around Don Neubacher as a negotiator at time of sale.

Even if the formidable negotiating skills of Gary Giacomini created this problem via "an agreement" in 2000, is that agreement in writing? Is it legally binding? I would guess not. I would further guess it was done with a handshake, good ol' boy style.

Take a walk along C Street in Point Reyes Station, folks. Stop at the corner of C and 3rd. Look west across the former Tomales Bay Wetlands. Without the cows, the corral area on the corner is already reverting to green and the long-buried creek is trying to find its creek bed again. Mother Nature is already waking up along the edges of the wetlands.

While standing there on the corner, try to envision what market rate housing or commercial use would look like right there, even going 200 feet out from the end of the corral. THAT is what the "land exchange" means for Point Reyes Station and, more importantly, for the edges of the wetlands already trying to recover.

To paraphrase Ronald Reagan in speaking about the Berlin Wall n the 80s, "take down those levees, Mr. Neubacher!" Let the water once more ebb and flow over the former Tomales Bay Wetlands, including the Inverness-side parcels. Forget your "land exchange!" You got snookered once, but please don't try to pass said "snookering" onto the rest of us to open up C Street to serious development.

Any "land exchange" needs congressional approval. I hear the cherry blossoms in Washington DC are fabulous in the spring. I've always wanted to experience the Smithsonian Institute too!

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