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Criticism of Crows Landing project continues unabated

Criticism of Crows Landing project continues unabated

For the second time in eight months, the city of Newman will be airing its concerns over a proposed inland intermodal complex located at the former Crows Landing air facility.

   The Newman City Council plans to send a letter to the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors in opposition of the 4,500-acre project. A draft of the letter, obtained by the Modesto Bee, will criticize the impact the project will have on the city as well as castigate the supervisors for not including more community input in the process that led up to the plan being approved in late February.

   “The city of Newman remains unconvinced the board will protect the values and quality of life of West Stanislaus County residents and communities during the redevelopment of the Crows Landing Air Base,” the draft version of the letter states. “Previous board decisions and the failure of the master developer to engage local leadership and incorporate them into the development process reinforces the belief that this project is based more upon politics than job development and sound planning.”

   In February, the supervisors voted 3-2 vote in favor of endorsing a development plan by Sacramento-based developer PCCP West Park. PCCP's plan will see the 1,527-acre former Crows Landing Naval Air Station into a 4,500-acre intermodal business complex with a short haul rail link to the Port of Oakland. Stanislaus County acquired the former U.S. Navy and NASA facility, located in central California about 18 miles south of Modesto, in 2004. The plan reaches beyond the air facility, including an additional 3,000 acres of adjacent property, which PCCP said were necessary to make the economics of the project work.

   Shortly before the county board vote in February, the Newman and Patterson city councils sent similar letters to supervisors opposing the project. The draft of the new letter raises Newman council concerns over the impacts of the project on nearby residents, aesthetics, the total size of the projects and the impacts on the local community due to urban growth. Newman has invested heavily in redeveloping the city's downtown area, and the letter explains that having a rail yard next door would negatively impact the city's investment and future potential investment.

   “The city will not support a plan that transforms West Stanislaus County into a rail yard with stockpiles of graffiti-laden storage containers and railcars,” the draft letter said.

   PCCP's grand design revolves around a short-haul rail link with the Port of Oakland that is to be funded by transportation bond money from the state, along with matching funds from local and federal sources in several jurisdictions. The $52 million rail plan, a key component in developer PCCP West Park's plan to remake the Crows Landing Naval Air Station into a modern rail and industrial complex, seeks to upgrade existing trackage along an 80-mile-long route running from Crows Landing to the Port of Oakland and back.

   Part of the entire project's first phase of construction and set for completion in 2011, the rail component calls for several 50-car trains loaded with freight containers to move via the proposed route through the Altamont Pass between the Oakland port and the redevelopment project site in Northern San Joaquin Valley. Once the containers reached Crows Landing, they would be loaded onto trucks for distribution throughout the Central Valley. Valley agricultural products and other regional products could be returned via the same rail line to the port for export.

   Last month, Oakland port officials dealt a stinging rebuke to the plan when they described the short rail plan as secondary to long-haul regional rail problems that need to be addressed first. The Stanislaus Council of Governments, the region transportation planning body for the Crow's Landing area, has included the short-rail project in the country's wish list of projects seeking state infrastructure bond funds. Since the group also lists the Oakland port as a possible source of matching funds, the port's lack of support for the plan could be a critical blow to the air station development. Officials from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the lead transportation planning, coordinating and financing agency for the nine-county Bay Area, also announced disinterest in the PCCP rail plan, saying more pressing solutions need to be addressed for area residents.