Bay Area Entrepreneur Envisions New Objectives for Land, Ways to Save the Planet

James Levine is a civil engineer. He is an entrepreneur, environmental consultant, a developer and someone who figures out how to solve multiple problems at once in a way that he hopes to benefit everyone.

One day as he was watching the bay from his Emeryville office, Levine was struck by the steep unnatural riprap shoreline around much of the bay that discouraged wildlife from congregating there. He also thought about the many tons of sediment that needed to be removed from the bay so large ships could pass through – and what he could do with that filler to encourage wildlife habitat elsewhere.

“I realized that because wildlife really wants more shallow, diverse areas, and if I can safely use dredged sediments to build them, I can provide an economic solution for harbors, which Billions of dollars of potential revenue are being lost because they can’t bring large ships in and create extraordinary habitats at the same time,” he said.

Thus was born the Montezuma Wetlands Project in Solano County, a private initiative started in the early 2000s that addressed two problems: the historical loss of wetlands and the disposal of millions of cubic yards of sediment annually from ports in the San Francisco Bay Area. How can be done , port and channel.

Formerly one of the most valuable habitats in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Montezuma Wetlands, next to Suisun Marsh near Collinsville, were prepared for agricultural use in the late 1800s. It was not until the end of 2020 that as part of Levine’s 15-year project to return the area to its original wetlands, using dredged fill from the bay to restore the habitat, was dissolved. .

“Sometimes problems are so difficult that they are often only solved if you can piece together two or three problems and find an integrated solution,” said Levine, CEO of Montezuma Water LLC.

Levine’s company pioneered the use of dredged sediment to restore wetlands, which is now an increasingly common method. And the saltwater habitat in the newly formed Montezuma Wetlands will support many species including smelt and small salmon, while the adjacent restored marsh will be attractive to the salt marsh harvest mouse, Ridgeway’s Railroad and the California Black Rail, which are listed as endangered, endangered or in near-crisis.

Levine spoke recently about some of his many projects and what it takes to be successful in today’s business world in a responsible way.

How did you get your start?

For three years, I worked for the regional water quality control board, the state water quality control board in Oakland, and for two and a half years, I was an incident commander for environmental emergencies. I have handled many things. Then I worked on some of the first Superfund sites in the area. I was a guy they sent down, and so I did a lot of engineering and figuring out how to solve problems.

Why focus on creating wetlands?

I thought why not take that fill out of the projects and fill some of these areas and make them more ecologically valuable? So I started the quest to do so. And the way I did it was that I signed an engineering geologist to find the best site in the Bay Area. I always like to team up with people from different backgrounds. …they came back three weeks later and there was a site that was an order of magnitude better than every other site in the entire Bay Area. And that was 4,000 acres of land owned by the Santa Fe Southern Pacific Land Company in Solano County. …we thought that if we could restore it by pouring dredged sediment here and placing it in a pattern where it would leave a landform, when you were done it would look like a tidal wetland.

In 2020, we converted our first 550 acres and another 100 acres of buffer to tide. And the success of the restoration is phenomenal and how fast it was. We thought it would take four years and nine months for the vegetation to come back.

You also plan to use some of the dredging fill for your proposed Jersey Island project in East Contra Costa County. how would you do that?

In Contra Costa, there really isn’t a good place to go to the beach and your kids can’t be supervised for security reasons. …with a county with a temperature of 100,105 degrees, how valuable would it be to the community to have a place you can go to, such as a big beach? And, as a business, we are really experienced in moving large amounts of materials like sand and filler and all that. Decker Island is right next door; We’ll probably pump it (the sand).

What are some other proposals for the six-acre island currently owned by the Ironhouse Sanitary District? We thought this could be a really good green energy (wind and solar) production location, which is one of Contra Costa County’s goals to generate local green energy.

Then we saw some habitat restoration potential, particularly for the giant garter snake. It’s an endangered species that you’re doing levy projects, which are essential projects if you want to save these islands… and so mitigation is already available, it’s just going to be a huge benefit.

We were just struggling to figure out, however, how to replace the cattle grazing upon which the (Ironhouse Sanitary) district was running its grazing campaign. … It keeps weeds down, so grazing is beneficial. But the cattle are grazing, I don’t know. So just when we thought what if we let the wild animals graze and give the people here like the most interesting thing to see, they ever see on a weekly basis? I mean, I would come here once a week to visit it, to see the vast 500-acre area and to see a herd of exotic animals.

How do environmentalists see your Jersey Island proposals? Nothing will thrill us more than partnering with the Sierra Club and the Greenbelt Alliance and other groups. That will help us make it better… and I think marry community values ​​and environmental values. It doesn’t always have to be one or the other. And so, I think there are ways to do it, but it requires people to come out of their corners and come out of their boxes and be willing to consider things they might have thought about before. Didn’t think

What upcoming business projects do you have that will help the environment? We have launched two new ventures during the last year, one of which aims to remove several million tons of carbon dioxide each year. And the second is to try to advance the construction of a desalination plant for the Bay Area as an additional form of water security.

What’s different about how you approach problems these days? It is a different world now. You know, the old ways aren’t working. We have to think a little differently. And I think, based on everything I’ve done, that if you did that, you know, maybe you could do some really amazing things. ,Jim Levine

Position: CEO Montezuma Waters; civil and environmental engineer

Education: UC Berkeley Master’s Degree in Engineering

Age: 67

Residence: Berkeley

Five things to know about Jim Levine

He plays guitar in a rock band called CRISIS.
He used to eat ice cream every night. Now, they’ve replaced it with small doses of dark chocolate.
He still runs the hills at Berkeley, reminiscent of his high school track practice days.
He participated in martial arts for 25 years.
His first work experience was with a small landscaping business, which helped propel him through college.

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