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Thursday, January 03, 2013

Critics of Lagoon Project Process Refuse to Let Up on Efforts

• Opponents Are Going to Try to Challenge Legality of Decision-Making ‘Machinations’

BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN

On Dec. 21, California Coastal Commission Executive Director Charles Lester granted a two-month construction extension for State Parks' Malibu Lagoon Restoration and Enhancement Project. The request was submitted to the CCC by California Department of Parks and Recreation senior biologist Suzanne Goode on Dec. 18.
“You have requested a 2.5 month time extension to complete upland construction activities, including construction of the winter platform and bird blind, northern observation area, watershed fountain, pathways, site furnishings, signage, upland restoration plantings, and removal and refurbishment of the construction staging area,” the CCC letter states.
The original permit stated: “all project activities involving the wetlands, including dewatering, dredging, and planting restoration activities, shall occur only during the period from June 1 through Oct. 15. Construction for the public access and interpretive elements outside of the wetland areas shall occur between June 1 and Dec. 31. The executive director [of the CCC] may grant additional time for a good cause.”
According to the executive director’s extension letter, signed by Coastal Program Analyst Amber Geraghty, “The time extension is requested because of unanticipated construction delays, including constraints in obtaining project materials, and delays due to early winter storms.”
“This extension is necessary to enable completion of all project activities and is not anticipated to result in any new impacts to sensitive species because the additional time requested for work is outside of bird nesting season and biological monitoring will continue during construction to minimize impacts to migrating steelhead trout and other sensitive species as specified in the permit conditions,” the document continues.
“Further, no additional impacts on water quality are expected because best management practices will continue throughout construction.”
The extension concludes: Public access will continue to be maintained  pursuant to the approved Public Access Plan and no work will be conducted on Saturdays, Sundays or state holidays. Thus, the executive director grants your request to extend the deadline until March 15, in order to complete permitted upland construction of public access and interpretive elements, as well as plantings, and you are authorized to continue with the construction/ restoration operations in compliance with all other permit conditions.”
Critics of the project continue to raise questions, including how much the extension will cost, whether a new man-made island was blocking water flow, and the possible impact of silt and mud from the project on the main channel of the lagoon during recent rains.
Video purporting to show two workers digging in the lagoon on Dec. 12 also continues to generate controversy. The permit for the project prohibited construction in the channel after Nov. 1. State Parks Angeles District Superintendent Craig Sap has stated that the men were removing a small number of sandbags.
Activist John Davis, has reportedly filed a complaint to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, regarding the digging incident. Any construction in the channel after the original Nov. 1 deadline should have required an amendment to the USFW's biologic opinion, according to Davis.
In December, Davis released a series of emails from parks personnel and non-profit government agencies involved in the project that he acquired through a Freedom of Information Act request. Davis revealed this week that he is pursuing legal action to gain access to additional emails.
Davis has expressed concern that meetings conducted by lagoon project agencies on a proposed plan to maintain a breach in the sandbar at the Malibu Lagoon deliberately “excluded the public,” and were conducted without public notice.
“This is a process the public is paying for with their tax dollars,” Davis told the Malibu Surfside News.
Public access to the beach remains available during construction, but is currently not accessible for disabled visitors that require wheelchair or stroller access.

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