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Land trust buys San Pablo Bay site

The Sonoma Land Trust announced Thursday that it has completed the purchase of land near San Pablo Bay that once was targeted for a casino.

The group paid $12.8 million for 1,679 acres near the intersection of Lakeville Highway and Highway 37. It will become part of a 2,327-acre salt marsh restoration and open space preservation project.

Environmental groups objected in 2003 when the Graton Rancheria tribe announced that it had obtained an option on the land and planned to build a casino. The tribe later decided to seek approval for a casino in Rohnert Park, and its option was donated to the land trust.

Together with the previously purchased 648-acre Dickson Ranch, the land will now be known as the Sears Point Restoration Project.

The purchase brings to 4,000 acres the amount of land the trust is preserving along the shores of San Pablo Bay.

In addition to land acquisition costs of slightly more than $17 million, the trust plans to spend $15 million to restore 1,000 acres to the land's original condition as a salt marsh. The rest will be used for open space and cattle grazing.

The marsh restoration, for which the agency already has secured $2 million, is expected to begin in five years.

Sears Point is the largest restoration and preservation project along the shores of San Francisco Bay since the purchase of 16,596 acres of Cargill Salt facilities in the South Bay in 2002, according to the land trust.

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