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Appellate Court Sides with Environmental Group in Dredging Challenge

Posted on November 23, 2015

Can the bottom of the San Francisco Bay be dredged away just because the state says it’s okay?

Not necessarily, says the California 1st District Court of Appeal.

The bottom of the bay is so-called “sovereign land” – owned by the state.

The State Lands Commission gave its approval to Hanson Marine Operations Inc., Morris Tug and Barge Inc. and Suisun Associates to dredge mining sand from sovereign lands under the San Francisco Bay under 10-year mineral extraction leases. Bay sand has rounded edges making it desirable for construction because it is easier to use and causes less wear on equipment.

San Francisco Baykeeper Inc. sued, saying in part that the project violates the common law public trust doctrine.

The appellate court agrees, saying the State Lands Commission failed to consider whether the sand mining leases are a proper use of public trust property.

The State Lands Commission “takes the position that extraction of a mineral resource for commercial purposes is a public use because it serves a public need for construction grade sand. However, a use does not qualify as a trust use simply because it might confer a public benefit,” the appellate decision says.

It adds, “The trust doctrine protects and promotes public uses including commerce and navigation. It cannot justify the private use of public property on the basis that the private party engaged in a water dependent activity for its own private commercial purpose.”

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