Lagoon Project Advocates Release Video to Try to Address Critics' Concerns
• Effort Is First Major Acknowledgement that the Opposition Can No Longer Be Ignored by the State
BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN
Representatives from the agencies promoting the Malibu Lagoon Restoration have released a video in an attempt to stem the groundswell of opposition that appears to be building in the Malibu community against the project scheduled to break ground in June.
"The Facts Supporting the Malibu Lagoon Restoration Project" video was created by Shifting Baselines for the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, one of the lead organizations in the plan to drain, bulldoze and reconfigure the western portion of the Malibu Lagoon.
"There have been concerns voiced," the video begins. "Here we set the record straight on a few distortions of the facts."
"Malibu Lagoon, right now, is choking to death, and its hard to see from a human perspective," Shelley Luce, director of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission states in the video, standing against a background of blue sky and green tule reeds at the lagoon.
"What happens is the tidewaters come in, they carrying sediment. The sediment drops out and there isn't enough draw on the way back to bring any of that sediment there, so it's rapidly filling." Clark Stevens, executive officer of the Resources Conservation District, explains.
Stevens warns that if the funding is not used for the Malibu Lagoon, it will be awarded to another water project.
"The ecology of the lagoon is severely impaired and the end result is that the state water board, the EPA, regional water board, they've all made it clear that this lagoon is so polluted that it needs to be cleaned up," Mark Gold, the president of Heal the Bay, which worked with state parks to develop the restoration project, says.
However, opponents of the reconstruction plan are already saying the video raises more questions than it addresses.
Critics point out that the restoration project does nothing to address the issue of upstream pollution entering the lagoon.
Opponents also question the project's science on oxygen levels. Marcia Hanscom, a biologist with the Wetlands Defense and an outspoken critic of the project, counters that areas with low dissolved oxygen are much smaller than estimated and that the areas of highest concern are outside the reconstruction project.
"Something is wrong with their conclusions," Hanscom told the Malibu Surfside News. "There are fish living there. There are no records of [fish] die-off in the lagoon."
Hanscom is also critical of proponent's claims that the process was "open and transparent." "Yes, there were lots of meetings," Hanscom said. "But that was the Lagoon Task Force. This project was only presented after the state stopped convening [the task force]. We never saw the grading plans."
Project critics also question the contention that tidal flow is responsible for sedimentation, since the lagoon is only open to the ocean during the periods when the berm is breached. They have repeatedly expressed concern that sediment will continue to flow into the lagoon from upstream, and point to provisions in the approved plan that allow for re-dredging the lagoon at the end of five years as proof that the state is also uncertain about the outcome of the project.
"They're trying to make something that was never here," longtime Malibu resident and surfer Andy Lyon told The News. "If you look at the plans, they're making a huge lake behind the Colony, but it's never been like that."
Lyon is also concerned about the impact the project will have on the surf break.
"One thing I care about is messing with a world famous surf break," Lyon said.
The video does not address the issue raised by members of the surfing community that the 1983 restoration permanently altered the surf break by changing how the creek empties into the bay and altering how sediment is deposited. They say that the new project has the potential to intensify the problem.
A Civic Center area restaurateur told The News that he and many of the other businesses in the area are worried about the impact the heavy equipment and multiple dump trucks required to remove the excavated fill and mud will have on summer traffic and whether the project will deter visitors during peak tourist season. "We had an unusually cold summer last year and record rains this winter. We are counting on summer business," he said.
The project's proponents counter that the window for work to proceed has to be limited to the summer months, when the impact on sensitive birds and fish species will be reduced.
The Malibu City Council will discuss the issue at its April 11 meeting. Opponents are preparing to file a court injunction on May 11 and opposition to the restoration project continues to build. A "Stop the Bulldozers" fundraising event at Duke's Restaurant last week attracted between 200-300 protesters, including actress and activist Daryl Hannah and a wide cross section of residents, environmentalists, access advocates, surfers, bird-watchers and beachgoers, and weekly lagoon walks are planned to "educate the public."
"Bulldozers are not an evil thing in and of themselves," Suzanne Goode, senior environmental scientist for California State Parks, says on the video. "They're merely a tool, just like a shovel or a hoe."
Project scientist Richard Ambrose elaborates on why bulldozers are required, referring to the extensive excavations required to facilitate the reconstruction. "Volunteers with shovels in 10 years would not be able to re-contour the lagoon," he says.
"[Project opponents have] known this place for a long time. They are very fiercely protective of it," Stevens says in the video.
"I understand that. That's why we are trying to let people know this is the doctor. This thing has appendicitis. It has toxic things flowing through it. It needs to be restructured so it can be healthy and have a long, long life."
"This has been a very transparent and open process that has taken ten years. There may be some people who just came to Malibu within the last year or two, or perhaps they're very young, in their 20s, that don't recall that we went through this exhaustive process," Goode says. "At some point, when you're planning a project and you have all of the input from the stakeholders, you have to move on and get the project planned. We cannot go back and reopen things after everyone has agreed unanimously that this is what we need to do."
"We have the funds in place, we have the political will, we have the scientific backing to do a true ecological restoration," Luce says at the end of the video.
However, some observers say it appears that project proponents do not seem to want to engage in an open dialogue with those who oppose the project.
The "Facts Supporting the Malibu Lagoon Restoration Project" video can be viewed online at www.youtube.com/watch?v=BEQbsYcHOL4.
Information on the lagoon project opposition is available at www.savemalibulagoon.com
BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN