State Assemblyman Ted Lieu (D-Marina del Rey) and state Sen. Jenny Oropeza (D-Marina del Rey) are calling on officials at the state Department of Fish and Game to look into claims of illegally abandoned refuse in the Ballona Wetlands west of the junction at Culver and Jefferson boulevards, a parcel known as Area B.

“The wetlands are protected and preserved and it is disgraceful to dump trash in these protected wetlands,” the assemblyman told The Argonaut.

Jonathan Coffin, a nature photographer, was near the wetlands Sept. 14 when he says he saw two men allegedly drop a television set and a microwave oven in the ecological preserve.

“I saw them just leave it there and drive away,” Coffin, who reported the incident to an officer at the Pacific division of the Los Angeles Police Department, claimed. “That wasn’t the first time that I’ve seen that happen.”

Wetlands advocates claim that this type of behavior occurs frequently and Fish and Game has been less than diligent in patrolling the preserve for litter and large household castoffs.

The state agency purchased the land from the Hughes Corporation in 2003 for $139 million and has been in charge of its stewardship since then.

Oropeza said she only recently learned that the ecological preserve is allegedly being used by some as a dumpsite.

“My office is in regular contact with the Ballona Institute and Friends of Ballona Wetlands and a staff member was at the wetlands earlier this month. This is the first time we have heard about dumping at the Ballona Wetlands,” the senator told The Argonaut. “My office contacted the California Department of Fish and Game and was told they had not received any recent complaints or notifications of dumping on state land either.”

Oropeza said she planned to continue to press state officials for answers.

“I will pursue this matter so we can ascertain the location of the reported dumping and Fish and Game can determine ownership of the parcels in question to identify a responsible party,” she pledged.

Ballona Institute Co-Director Marcia Hanscom feels that Fish and Game has been in her words, “an absentee landowner” at the wetlands and that in part has contributed to illegal dumping.

“It’s particularly distressing when you think that it’s been seven years since the purchase of the land by the state,” Hanscom said. “It’s just unconscionable how the state has not protected this precious asset.”

Dr. Edith Read, the manager of the freshwater habitat at Playa Vista, says more security and vigilance by Fish and Game could help remedy the current situation in the wetlands.

“The direct effect of this dumping of objects there is it covers habitat and impedes the growth of native plants,” Read, a board member of Friends of the Ballona Wetlands, a restoration and preservation group, explained.

Lieu said the discarded refuse can be toxic and therefore harmful to wetlands wildlife and plants, but Read said that was unlikely.

“It is possible, but since this is highly localized dumping and given the area where it is occurring, I wouldn’t expect much toxic spillage,” the biologist said.

Hanscom said she showed Lieu photographs of debris several months ago, but he will be leaving office in November, she pointed out.

“He was shocked,” said Hanscom, whose organization also is involved in research, restoration and wetlands protection. “But he’ll be leaving office soon and we’ll need someone who will shake things up in Sacramento.”

Coffin, who says he was on public land when he photographed the discarded microwave and television set in the ecological preserve, did restoration work with the Ballona Wetlands Land Trust, another environmental organization in Area B before the land was purchased by Fish and Game. He remembers that the volunteers had access to large containers to store debris and non-native plants that they removed from the wetlands.

“There should be some way for (state officials) to be able to remove anything that gets on the reserve,” the photographer said.

“Once trash is in there, it’s hard to figure out what’s going on and how to get it out of there.”

Coffin said he has also seen wooden pallets, half-full paint cans and broken water heaters in Area B.

Hanscom claimed that Fish and Game has been less than adequate in its management of Area B.

“We need an agency that will protect and cherish this place,” she said.

Read says while it’s distressing to know that there is trash and other refuse in parts of the wetlands, she thinks that because the dumping is highly localized “it’s more of an eyesore right now.”

Coffin feels it goes beyond blight.

“It shows a disrespect for the land,” he asserted.

Oropeza agrees with him.

“It is disappointing that some of our residents apparently have so little respect for our environment,” she said. “Alarm bells should sound when anyone becomes aware of any kind of waste, but particularly electronic waste, or e-waste, being disposed of improperly because there are many chemicals and components of e-waste that are particularly harmful and dangerous to the environment.

“The fact is, it is a criminal act to dump trash of any kind and to do so with e-waste is an especially thoughtless, dangerous attack on our environment and our neighbors,” Oropeza continued. “I’m hopeful the Legislature addresses this issue successfully in 2011.”

The senator said a proposal that she drafted to improve hazardous waste was rejected by the Assembly.

“The correct disposal of e-waste, no matter where it’s deposited, is an issue I’ve been involved with for some time. Earlier this past session, for example, I introduced Senate Bill 1052 as a way to improve oversight of e-waste disposal. Despite passage in the Senate, however, this important bill died in the Assembly,” she recalled.

“This year I’ve also encouraged the state to expand funding for the local Conservation Corps, and to include e-waste in their expanded collection duties, via the introduction of SB 1326. Sadly, it too, died in the Assembly.”

Reminded that Saturday, Sept. 25 was Coastal Cleanup Day statewide, Hanscom said it was a shame that although Area C is not located along the beach, it was ironic that it would not be included in the annual community efforts to remove debris that could harm coastal waters and the environment.

“The state and the California Coastal Commission (one of the sponsors of the event) put a lot of effort in outreach on (Coastal Cleanup Day),” she said. “Yet no one pays attention to this precious resource.

“I support Coastal Cleanup Day,” she added, “but in many ways, it really is the height of hypocrisy by the state.”

Calls to Mary Small of the Department of Fish and Game were not returned as of press time.

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