Ballona Restoration Delayed Again

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Posted October 19, 2016 by The Argonaut in News
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Heal the Bay and other groups call for greater transparency and public accountability

By Gary Walker

The opaque Ballona Wetlands restoration process has faced seemingly endless delays Photo by Jonathan Coffin

The opaque Ballona Wetlands restoration process has faced seemingly endless delays
Photo by Jonathan Coffin

Very few topics can unite the disparate landscape of Westside environmental advocacy organizations so often at odds with one another, but the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has managed to find one that comes pretty close.

The state wildlife agency announced last week that the long-awaited draft environmental analysis of Ballona Wetlands restoration plans will be delayed yet again, this time until mid-2017, sparking an avalanche of condemnation.

The report is a necessary first step to begin restoration of the wetlands, and there have been more than a half-dozen official delays of its promised release since the state took control of the 600-acre ecological reserve in 2003. As of 2015, the report was due out this summer. This latest announcement kicks the can down the road another year.

Heal the Bay, which has largely kept above the fray of disagreement over how best to restore the wetlands, has created a petition at change.org demanding the immediate release of the report in progress.

“This is unacceptable. We demand to see the EIR/EIS now. Further, we want to know why the EIR/EIS is so delayed. What assurance do we have that the new timeline will be met?” reads the petition, which links to a blog post titled “The Ballona Boondoggle.”

Heal the Bay Science Director Dr. Katherine Pease said frustration has boiled over with the latest delay.

“It’s been really disappointing to a lot of the groups that have been working on this and waiting for many years. The fact that it’s been delayed again is really frustrating and confusing,” Pease said.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife is working with the California Coastal Conservancy and The Bay Foundation to supervise Ballona restoration efforts, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers being tapped for assistance.

“The delay is due to the identification, discussion and resolution of various questions and concerns from the project agencies involved,” said Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Jordan Traverso. “The lead agency for the draft environmental impact report for the state is the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The lead agency for the draft environmental impact study for the federal government is the Army Corps of Engineers. Both agencies are reviewing and addressing these questions and concerns.”

The analysis will consider the benefits and drawbacks of multiple restoration strategies, a starting point for the public hearing process.

“Preparation of the environmental review is taking longer than originally anticipated — not uncommon with documents of this complexity, but we remain committed to preparing a detailed, scientific evaluation of project effects before making a decision concerning this important natural resource,” Traverso said.

The nonprofit Friends of Ballona Wetlands isn’t satisfied.

“What ‘studies’ could possibly remain to be done at this point, after more than 25 years of them? … We understand that lengthy review by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and concerns about litigation are contributing to the delays, but litigation has always been part of the history of the Ballona Wetlands. These delays are inexcusable,” reads a statement by Edith Read,  who heads the group’s science, restoration and education committee.

Travis Longcore, a professor of urban ecology at USC who has studied the wetlands, has a different opinion.

“I’m happy that they take as much time as they want because I haven’t seen anything thus far that I can support. EIRs for these projects always take a long time … but they can also be used to rationalize or justify a project,” said Longcore, science director of the Urban Wildlands Group.

Douglas Fay, one of the leading critics of the restoration planning process, isn’t looking forward to the report’s release because he worries the state’s restoration will do more harm than good.

“Every day that they delay blatantly and maliciously killing all of the life in an ecological reserve is a good day,” he said.

Despite their different reactions to the delay, both Pease and Longcore said the state should hold meetings to give the public a better idea of what’s going on behind the scenes.

“There always seems to be an excuse, and the latest one doesn’t even make clear what some of the issues are that are creating the delay,” Pease said.

“I think there has been a breakdown of public trust surrounding this project,” said Longcore. “There’s been no regular venue where project leaders have been meeting scientific advisory members and in turn engaging with the public.”

Pease is worried that further delay will continue to put native plants at a disadvantage to invasive species.

As time goes by, she said, “the wetlands are getting worse.”

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3 Comments


  1.  
    John Davis

    It is easy to understand why the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) has put the public on hold again. Both the Agency and its Executive Director have been sued for draining the very wetlands that both are legally obligated to protect.

    The California Coastal Commission (CCC) sent several letters to DFW demanding that DFW remove illegal developments that have been draining the life blood of the public wetland preserve for well over a decade, causing damage of an unknown magnitude.

    Grassroots Coalition, a local non-profit has taken the matter to court based on the supportive letters from the CCC which determined that no permit exists to drain the wetlands.

    It is obvious to many now that the guise of restoration is now gone. It is a creation, but, a creation of what and to benefit whom?

    All records indicate that a Coastal Development and U.S. Army Corp of Engineers permit for flood control for the massive Playa Vista Development were never completed. Those permits required construction of something euphemistically called a salt marsh, which was the second
    and most important portion of the required flood control to protect the project and people that live there.

    Now, the public is being duped into sacrificing one of the last precious wetlands in this State
    to support those unfinished private needs.

    Many State agencies and individual employees have facilitated this tactic with public money.

    The clear question is, should the public let this valuable resource be destroyed to support a private mega-business, or not? DFW Director Charles Bonham says yes.

    This is not just a delay, it is the end of a process that should never started and I am quite sure it will never recover.

    What does make sense, is to really restore this resource, not to create a man-made salt lake where nourishing freshwater exists today.

    John Davis




  2.  
    sandserat

    Please do not make the mistakes made in the Manila Dunes where
    non-native plants had naturalized to the point that when they were removed the native plants died and our wetlands failed to function. Why these adverse impacts were ignored and not reported is something our Coastal Commission needs to address.





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