Without a Late-Hour Reprieve—Lagoon Construction Proceeds
• Project Opposition Continues Its Full-Court Press on State and Federal Agency Officials
BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN
Confusion was the order of the day on June 1 at the Malibu Lagoon, the day State Parks controversial plan to drain, dredge and reconstruct the western portion of the lagoon was scheduled to get underway.
Approximately 50 project protesters and a handful of plan supporters and project contractors gathered at the site, while the media and numerous state and sheriff's department law enforcement officers looked on. The parking lot at the Malibu Civic Center was filled with seven State Parks trucks and an equal number of LASD vehicles, including a K9 unit and the sheriff's department mobile command station.
Chumash representative Mati Waiya, a project proponent, performed a blessing ceremony. Contractors from the firm of E. C. Inc. who were meeting in the park to discuss the project, demanded that protesters be removed, but were told by sheriff's deputies that the protesters were within their First Amendment rights and were not breaking the law. Opponents and proponents debated the project on the street corner, while holding signs up for passing vehicles to see. Cages and traps to hold the park's animals were delivered but bulldozers were not. Word arrived at around 8 a.m. that the project start date was being pushed back until Monday at the earliest.
Craig Sap, district superintendent for State Parks' Angeles district, initially stated that the project start was delayed until Monday at the request of Malibu City Councilmember Skylar Peak, to prevent construction activity from impacting the 12th annual Pat Notaro Day children's charity event at Surfrider beach. The official later acknowledge to the media that the delay was related to changes in the dewatering plan.
Sap told the media that the contractor had presented a dewatering plan that "differed" from the version outlined in the project's plan.
Officials, repeatedly asked by media and project opponents, seemed unable to settle on agree on what the revised plan may entail.
Changes appear to currently include plans to reroute beachgoers over a dike that will be constructed to separate the main channel of Malibu Creek from the channels that will be drained and rebuilt. It is unclear if such a route will be ADA accessible.
The project manual states that the dewatering project could also potentially require the water level in the main channel to be lowered to an elevation of three feet, despite repeated assurances that the main channel will not be part of the project. Critics of the State Parks have alleged that the project's dewatering plan is seriously flawed and will not be able to treat more than a tenth of the water that will be pumped out of the lagoon and into the ocean at Surfrider Beach.
The berm is currently closed and water levels in the channels are higher than usual, due in part to extremely high tides.
"It's not a new dewatering plan," Santa Monica Baykeeper Executive Director Mark Abramson, who is overseeing the dewatering project, told the Malibu Surfside News. "It's the same plan. It has all the things we have to do but a multitude of scenarios. The contractor has to submit the plan [based on whether] the lagoon is open or closed."
"There are variables," Abramson said. "We could not finalize the plan [until] the contractor finds out on the ground. We are doing 600 percent more than legally required. My people are on the hook for treating every single drop of water."
Suzanne Goode, State Parks Angeles District senior environmental scientist, has stated that the project has not abandoned its plan, but that the plan had a number of options that are being explored by the dewatering contractor.
Samuel Unger, executive officer of the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, has stated that any changes to the plan must be reviewed and approved by the RWQCB, although he stated that he does not anticipate any problems.
Abramson also dismissed concerns that the estimated 5000 endangered tidewater goby fish in the lagoon will be imperiled by the project.
"There are no gobys in the mud because there is no oxygen, he said.
Sea Save Executive Director Georgienne Bradley, a lagoon project opponent who says she has made an extensive study of gobys, disagreed with Abramson. Bradley said that the goby has evolved to live in a low oxygen environment, an ability that provides it with protection from predators. "Endangered tidewater Goby nests will be destroyed," she said. "The adult fish will dive into the mud, into protective burrows, as the bulldozers approach. They have a permit to take five gobys, but many more will be killed."
Bradley explained that she had just returned from Sacramento, where she delivered a 10,000-signature petition opposing the project and met with representatives from the offices of Governor Jerry Brown, the California Department of Parks and Recreation, and the California Natural Resources Agency.
Her concerns included the fact that the Rindge Dam, located in Malibu Canyon, is scheduled for removal after the conclusion of the lagoon dredging.
The tons of sediment that will be released by this 100-foot-high structure will most likely result in the necessity to re-dredge," Bradley said. She also criticized the dewatering plan. "It's severely flawed, Bradley said, "The magnitude of the machinery and the resulting cost was off by at least an exponent of ten. The schematic chlorination proposal would create carcinogens when combined with hypoxic fresh water."
"We asked the government officials to hit the "pause" button, Bradley said.
State officials, however, say they have no intention of pausing. Biologists were on hand early this week, catching western fence lizards and side-splotched lizards and rounding up small mammals.
There was no word on Tuesday, as the Malibu Surfside News went to press, about the status of the revised dewatering plan.
A legal challenge filed by the Wetlands Defense Fund will be heard in July. Opponents are reportedly also looking into ways to challenge the project at the federal level, based on the Endangered Species Act.
Protesters say they will continue to keep a 24-hour vigil in front of the lagoon entrance.
The watchers, organized by the Surfers Coalition to Save Malibu Lagoon, have named themselves "the Hive," and say the opposition effort is continually buzzing.