STATE AGENCIES in charge of the restoration of the Ballona Wetlands are hoping that a healthy, functioning reserve will yield environmental as well as academic benefits for students such as these from Coeur d’ Alene Avenue Elementary School in Venice. Photo by Heather Kahler

Environmentalists, scientists and nature lovers will soon have an opportunity to share their insights and viewpoints on the restoration of Los Angeles’ last remaining wetlands.

The long-awaited environmental review for the 600-acre Ballona Wetlands kicks off this month, beginning with a notice of preparation issued by the state Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

According to a statement obtained by The Argonaut, the environmental review of the ecological reserve will include examination of the impacts to aesthetics, air quality, biological resources, cultural resources, geology and soils, water quality, land use and planning, noise, public services, recreation and sea-level rise.

In an exclusive with The Argonaut, Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission Coordinator Diana Hurlbert talked about the public meetings that will take place as the lengthy environmental analysis begins.

“We are really excited to engage the public in the environmental review process and see what alternative and issues they are interested in having the environmental impact statement explore. The public scoping for the project represents the public’s first opportunity to participate in the environmental process,” Hurlbert explained.

“During scoping, we will be asking interested parties to submit comments and suggestions for what alternatives and issues they would like to see in the environmental impact report/environmental impact statement.”

The agencies will hold a scoping meeting from 4 to 7 p.m. Aug. 16 at the Fiji Way gateway entrance to the wetlands in Marina del Rey.

Mary Small, programs manager at the California Coastal Conservancy, said a restored wetlands brings community benefits as well as a boost to the region’s ecosystems.

“Having enhanced habitat in a highly populated area will be a real asset to the community,” Small told The Argonaut. “We would hope that being able to see a high functioning wetlands would be an added benefit of the project.”

Some local environmental groups object to the potential industrial use of equipment in the wetlands and take issue with the possibility of seeing industrial work in the wetlands during restoration. They point to other locations, including Malibu Lagoon, where machinery will be used to contour the lagoon’s banks in a restoration project.

Small said the inclusion of any industrial equipment such as bulldozers has not been determined by the agencies that will be involved in the restoration of Ballona, but added that the use of heavy equipment is not uncommon in wetlands renewal, depending on the condition or state of deterioration of the site.

“There have been many projects throughout the world where bulldozers have been used to restore ecology,” she noted. “Heavy equipment was used to damage (the Ballona Wetlands) and machinery can be used to help restore the ecology there.

“The scale of the historical damage (is severe) and cannot be undone with hand tools.”

Sea level rise is a phenomenon that will be considered during the environmental analysis. Its impact on coastal wetlands was the principal finding in Climate Ready Estuaries, an environmental investigation on the potential climate change impacts to coastal systems and what can be done to address the effects of climate change in coastal systems should coastal resource managers focus their climate change efforts on adaptation.

“(Sea level rise) is the predominant factor that could happen in the wetlands (due to climate change),” said Dr. Guangyu Wang, deputy director of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, in an earlier interview. “We focused on the Ballona Wetlands because we wanted to make sure that the final (restoration) design takes into account climate change.”

The study was funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The environmental examination could also include the removal of concrete levees on Ballona Creek to restore natural river and marsh habitat between Marina del Rey and the Westchester bluffs, according to the commission, which has been assisting the state Coastal Conservancy with the wetland refurbishing with baseline studies, water quality analysis and other research.

Dr. Daniel Swenson of the Army Corps of Engineers said that possibility would be addressed in the environmental impact report. “Those are the kind of things that will be evaluated (during the environmental process), and we’re not close to any decisions right now,” he said.

Swenson said the possible removal of levees would be discussed during the public meetings and he reiterated that no decisions on how the ecological reserve will be restored have been made.

Hurlbert also said no definitive plans have been made as yet for refurbishing the Ballona Wetlands, despite protests to the contrary.

“The project has considered many alternative designs, and continues to do so. At this time no alternative has been settled on and the feasibility of multiple alternatives will be investigated and refined based on public comment, as well as biological engineering, infrastructure, and other constraints,” she stressed.

“Several alternatives will be carried forward into the environmental process as required by the California Environmental Quality Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, and the public’s input during the scoping period is critical to help ensure that that a reasonable range of alternatives is identified.”

After restoration, the site will be open to millions of residents and visitors for walking, biking, bird watching and learning about nature in the midst of Los Angeles’ metropolitan sprawl, the commission states.

Due to construction costs, logistics and wildlife management needs, the project would take several years to complete, even after it is approved.

The public is invited to participate in the environmental process at the Aug. 16 meeting or by writing to:

Ballona Wetlands Restoration Project c/o Donna McCormick 1 Ada, Suite 100 Irvine, CA 92816 or by email to Donna.McCormick@icfi.com.

Written comments will be accepted until Sept. 10. ¤

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