Protests Continue as Malibu Lagoon Project Start Date Arrives
• State Parks Drops Controversial Dewatering Plan but Has Not Yet Released Any Details on Alternative Design
BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN
Last week, justices of the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco refused to grant a "stay" requested by opponents of State Parks' Malibu Lagoon Restoration and Enhancement Project.
The stay was requested by the Wetlands Defense Fund, CLEAN, and Access for All, the trio environmental groups whose appeal against the court decision to approve the project is not expected to be heard by the court until July.
"The action clears the way for a project which has gone through almost 17 years of planning and is supported by key federal and state agencies and numerous environmental groups," a news release from Craig Sap, district superintendent for the California Department of Parks and Recreation, states.
"The partners of this much-needed restoration strongly believe that the work to be done will arrest the continuing deterioration of aquatic habitat and bring back an array of plants, animals and aquatic organisms that comprise a healthy ecosystem for the lagoon.
"California State Parks and its supporting partners believe that significant intervention is needed to fully restore the lagoon," Sap said. "Without significant intervention, with only mild treatment, this wetland will continue its decline, dooming it to becoming a stagnant waterway that is devoid of the levels of bird and aquatic life that we expect when this project is complete.
"State Parks will carry out its work in strict compliance with all of the permits issued for the project, which will include special protections for the endangered species located within the lagoon."
However, at least one permit seems to be in limbo, as the June 1 start day for the project. The public learned on Tuesday that State Parks appears to have discarded a controversial dewatering plan that is essential for the plans to drain, dredge and recreate the western portion of the lagoon, but which has received extensive criticism from project critics. It is unclear when a new plan to treat the 48.5 million gallons of water that must be removed from the west channels of the lagoon.
The dewatering plan, which on paper, appeared to have only the capacity to treat one-tenth of the water that must be pumped out of the lagoon to enable the project to proceed, raised a number of unanswered questions from the Malibu City Council and City Manager Jim Thorsen.
The Malibu surfing community has also expressed concern that contaminants, including MRSA and other pathogens that could potentially be harbored in the lagoon water will be pumped, untreated, into the surf zone. The state refused to indemnify the city for the potential risk associated with the project.
"I've been told now that State Parks has been given the permit [from the California Coastal Commission] to proceed with the project and we don't have a dewatering plan. I'm wondering what it is the city will do now?" said outspoken project critic Andy Lyon at the Malibu City Council meeting on Tuesday night. Lyon also criticized State Parks for not putting up signage that the project is scheduled to begin on Friday, and questioned the plan to place tons of lagoon mud in what is currently the park's parking lot to dry.
"We've collected over 10,000 signatures as of today," Georgienne Bradley, the executive director of the Sea Save Foundation told the council. "Sea Save doesn't know what the solution is for the Malibu Lagoon but we do know that there are some red flags being raised. If you do the math it's wrong. This is a big deal. If they can't hold the water how are they going to do this project? I don't know what you can do but I implore you to do everything you can to delay this. "
Robert Roy Van de Hoek, speaking for the Wetlands Defense Fund, told the council that opening statements in the organization's legal appeal are expected to begin in July. He asked the council to request that the city contact the executive director of the Coastal Commission and request that the project's permit be revoked.
"The executive director has complete authority, is required by the [Coastal] Act that if a proposal is made to him for revoking, and the credibility has to do with issues that weren't brought up [the request must be heard]. This gives power to you," he said.
"Science has flaws. There was going to be a nuclear power plant here in Malibu. Science said it was OK to go ahead and do that, other scientists said no, but it was activists, non-scientists who were the ones who stopped it. Rindge Dam, sewers. This is all linked into the Malibu Lagoon project. Stopping all three must start with first one."
"There's been several things going on with lagoon," City Manager Jim Thorsen said. "Staff has been trying to discuss several issues with the permittees. The Coastal Commission definitely issued the permit. They received the city's letter [enumerating concerns] but went ahead and issued the permit."
Thorsen said that there were "major deficiencies" in the dewatering plan. "State Parks [has] abandoned the dewatering plan and [is] coming up with a new dewatering plan," he confirmed.
"We have been unable to get any additional plan. The plan in the permit will not be utilized."
Mayor Laura Rosenthal stated that the city is continuing to look for "Anything that we can find to put a kink in their armor"
"You are preaching to the choir," Mayor Pro Tem Lou La Monte said. "I couldn't agree more. I think that there is an issue and obviously they figured out there is an issue." LaMonte described a PowerPoint presentation he had seen on the project. "Between the picnic tables and kelp umbrellas it looks like a tourist attraction, not a lagoon. I wish they would just leave us alone."
"Science doesn't make decisions, science should inform decisions," said Councilmember John Sibert. "There is a real issue if they have decided not to do the dewatering because if they are off by a factor of 10-100 that may be an issue we can raise with the CCC. I would be happy to speak to a CCC commissioner about it. This one still worries me."
Thorson said that the city will evaluate the project's new dewatering plan as soon as it is released.
Councilmember Joan House offered to bring the issue of city indemnification up with State Parks Superintendent Ruth Coleman next week. Councilmember Skylar Peak was absent.
Opponents of the project continue to protest. A silent pray vigil was held on Sunday. On Monday, the Surfers Coalition to Save Malibu Lagoon sponsored a protest. Protesters are expected to gather on Friday—the official start date of the project at the lagoon. State Parks has reportedly prepared an ambitious crowd control plan that includes numerous park law enforcement officers and a sizable sheriff's department presence.
The troika of environmental organizations pursuing legal action against the project are expected to file suit in Federal court, alleging the unauthorized take of the endangered tidewater goby, threatened California least tern, and threatened Western snowy plover, as well as adverse modification of designated critical habitat for the Tidewater Goby.
Malibu's mayor urged the city council and the public to continue to call and write to the governor, the California Coastal Commission and the regional and state water boards to continue to express concerns with the project.