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New Brown Field Project Aims To Protect Owl Species, Create Jobs

A Burrowing owl tries to perch on a protective rope in a public park as rain ...

Credit: J Pat Carter/Associated Press

Above: A Burrowing owl tries to perch on a protective rope in a public park as rain falls in Cooper City, Fla., May 20, 2013.

Environmental organizations and developers have announced an agreement that clears the way for a long-planned building project at Brown Field, the municipal airport in Otay Mesa.

Among other things, the deal provides for a multi-year program to rebuild the population of the burrowing owl, protects vernal pools and incorporates solar energy into new buildings in the project, which was approved by the City Council in 2013.

"This agreement provides an innovative strategy reestablishing burrowing owls throughout San Diego County and creates an effective tool to allow off-site mitigation of greenhouse gases with rooftop solar in communities most harmed by air pollution from fossil fuels," said Jonathan Evans, environmental health legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

The development overseen by Metropolitan Airpark LLC calls for more than 1 million square feet of industrial buildings, restaurants, retail businesses and a hotel across 331 acres.

Around 8,000 construction and 4,000 permanent jobs could be generated in the South County area, according to city documents.

Charles Black of Metropolitan Airpark told City News Service that with the agreement in hand, construction could begin sometime this year.

The deal includes some constraints on the construction schedule, such as not starting work during the owls' breeding season, Black said. He said some financing updates will have to be presented to the City Council in the next few months.

An "optimistic" timeline has the first buildings occupied in three years, he said. The entire development of the site could take two decades.

The firm oversees infrastructure work, permitting and marketing, while individual developers will construct the various facilities.

Jesse Marquez, executive director of Coalition for a Safe Environment, said burrowing owls and vernal pools — the small, seasonal wetlands that sustain fairy shrimps and other species — have "almost been wiped off the map in most of Southern California."

The agreement enlists the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research to help rebuild the burrowing owl population on Otay Mesa and establish a pilot program for repopulating burrowing owls in other areas in the region, according to the environmental groups. The agreement also sets aside habitat off the airport for burrowing owls and protects the vernal pool habitat.


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