Malibu Lagoon Opponents to Battle in Court This Week
• Decision to Determine Project's Fate
BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN
On Thursday, Oct. 27, a San Francisco Superior Court judge will hear the lawsuit filed by the Wetlands Defense Fund, Access for All and the Coastal Law Enforcement Action Network, that alleges that the California Department of Parks and Recreation and the California Coastal Commission-approved plans to drain, dredge and recontour the Malibu Lagoon and remove an existing accessway to the beach is in violation of the Coastal Act.
"The case is about a decision by the California Coastal Commission to allow dredging and fill within Malibu Lagoon in a misguided effort to "restore" the lagoon," the opening brief in the case states.
"Malibu Lagoon is a sensitive environmental resource: it contains prime coastal wetlands; it is designated as Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area under the Coastal Act; and it is home to numerous sensitive and endangered species. [The petitioners] seek to protect these resources as well as public access trails that run through the lagoon to the ocean.
"The Coastal Commission approved the alleged "restoration" project, named the Malibu Lagoon Wetland Habitat Restoration and Enhancement Plan (the Project), to dam, drain, dredge, and completely remake a 12-acre section of the lagoon with over 87,000 cubic yards of soil excavation and fill. The problem is that the project is a blunt instrument that creates more damage than restoration. Moreover, the responsible public agencies approved this project without analyzing any alternatives that would be environmentally sensitive and avoid severe impacts to the existing lagoon wildlife."
In their joint opposition brief, the CCC and State Parks responded by stating "Malibu Lagoon is degraded due to past human activities. In particular, the current artificial hydrology of the lagoon does not allow adequate water circulation.
As discussed throughout this brief, the record is replete with evidence to support the Commission's conclusion that the dysfunctional configuration of the lagoon leads to a host of problems—including poor water circulation, eutrophication, "dead zones," impaired water quality, and low species diversity—and that these problems cannot be addressed without changing the fundamental hydrology of the lagoon by reconfiguring the channels.
"Specifically, the Restoration Project will 'improve the long-term function of the lagoon ecosystem by recontouring/reconfiguring the lagoon, slopes and channels to increase hydrologic flow.' The recontouring/reconfiguration involves as well as removal of some of the excavated sediment material. The Plan also includes "revegetation with native wetland and upland plant species and removal of non-native plant species; construction of a public access trail around the lagoon with new interpretive public informational/educational improvements; and implementation of a long-term monitoring plan.
"The petitioners' lawsuit disregards the extensive environmental review that occurred prior to the Commission's action and upon which the Commission based much of its analysis. Petitioners' request for a writ of mandate to set the decision aside and should lift the stay order. (the Agencies) have not demonstrated compliance with the Coastal Act and California Environmental Quality Act."
The petitioners reply brief states that the agencies "skewed the facts." and that their "discussion of permit approvals omits critical information. Significantly, the California Department of Fish and Game—the state agency tasked with protecting wildlife—never approved dredging in Malibu Lagoon."
The outcome of the court case will be posted at www.malibusurfsidenews.com on Friday.