Concord has some big plans for 5,200 acres that once were part of the Naval Weapons Station.

As described in the Concord Reuse Project Area Plan, the abandoned plot of ground in the northeast section of town will be home to about 12,000 new dwellings and 28,000 residents. There will be several million square feet of commercial property, many bike and pedestrian paths, 2,700 acres of open space and a command-and-training center for the Contra Costa Sheriff's Office and the Contra Costa Fire District.

When this will happen, however, is anyone's guess. The discussions that began in 2006 and led to a specific use plan in 2012 are still a long way from becoming reality because this type of undertaking is, well, numbingly painstaking.

"I'm sure for folks in the community it seems like it's taking a long, long time," said Mike Wright, executive director of the local reuse authority, "but in the grand world of military base closure-and-transfer, it's actually moving along pretty quickly."

Wright is an authority on the topic. Before arriving in Concord, he helped Irvine develop the former El Toro Marine base. The major hurdles, now as then, involve approvals from enough federal and state agencies to make a deep thinker lightheaded.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and California Department of Toxic Substances Control must sign off on contaminant remediation (arsenic once was used to control weeds on the property). The good news is that this is the Navy's responsibility; the bad news is Concord must wait until the Navy deals with it.


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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and the California Water Resources Control Board must be satisfied that no species is threatened or water fouled. Mt. Diablo Creek, which runs through the property, poses some challenges there.

"We have to deal with flood control," Wright said. "Mt. Diablo Creek needs to be enhanced, restored and revitalized, not just for its habitat value but because it's a tributary that takes water to the bay."

Then there's the matter of the Navy itself, which won't surrender land ownership until terms are negotiated stipulating how it will share in any value recognized from the sale of the property.

Assuming all of those hurdles can be cleared -- Wright believes they can -- an even bigger test may be finding funds for infrastructure such as sewers, water service and roads that are necessary to attract developers.

"The loss of redevelopment funding has had a big impact and will continue to have one," Wright said. "We're going to have to find ways to finance the infrastructure."

If there's a bright side to the long, dark development road, it's that the real estate market, most recently on the upswing, should be thriving by the time the property is available. Joining the party in progress may be the best time to arrive.

Wright predicts the first shovels will go into the dirt for infrastructure by 2016. Construction of houses, businesses and streets, he said, should begin a year later.

Does he know what he'll do with himself when this project is finally complete?

He chuckled at the question: "This will be going on for a long time. It's not all going to happen on Day One. It's liable to take five or six years beyond the initial transfer of property before the Navy is ready to go."

Apologies for rushing things. I should know better by now.

Contact Tom Barnidge at tbarnidge@bayareanewsgroup.com.