Stalled Malibu Lagoon restoration gets go-ahead
A stalled California State Parks plan to restore habitat and water quality to pollution-choked Malibu Lagoon by dredging the wetland and reshaping it with bulldozers can go forward, a judge has ruled.
San Francisco County Superior Court Judge Ernest Goldsmith ruled Thursday that the restoration can proceed because the California Coastal Commission, which approved the project last year, had considered all the alternatives and the project would not limit public access to the beach.
In May, Goldsmith issued a stay delaying the project days before it got underway so a lawsuit from several environmental groups could be heard.
The $7 million project, more than a decade in the making, would temporarily drain a 12-acre section of the wetland in Malibu Lagoon State Beach and use bulldozers to scoop out sediment and replant its banks with native plants in order to improve water circulation and ecological health.
While most environmental groups backed the plan, the Wetlands Defense Fund, Access for All and the Coastal Law Enforcement Action Network sued last year to stop the project, saying the plan approved by the Coastal Commission was too heavy handed; failed to protect sensitive habitat, including aquatic vegetation and fish; and would remove a pathway to popular Surfrider Beach.
Thursday's ruling in favor of the state followed more than three hours of arguments in a courtroom in San Francisco, where the Coastal Commission is headquartered. The decision means the project is likely to go ahead in June 2012, a year later than planned. The work can be completed only in the dry summer season.
Suzanne Goode, a senior environmental scientist for California State Parks, said the agency has been vindicated.
"We are ready to move on and will start gearing up again and growing our plants that we'll revegeate the lagoon with," she said. "We intend to proceed because we know this is the best project for the health of the lagoon and the wildlife species that live there."
Prominent environmental groups, including Santa Monica Baykeeper, Heal the Bay and Surfrider Foundation have stood behind the restoration plan, saying it would go a long way toward fixing the lagoon's long degraded waters and poor ecological health.
But the groups that filed suit said they were disappointed by the ruling and vowed to defeat the project by next summer.
"We had hoped we could look towards a less extreme, non-invasive and balanced solution to the habitat, water quality and public access challenges at Malibu Lagoon," said Marcia Hanscom, head of two of the groups that filed suit. "We will be considering our legal options and determining our best course of action for protecting this important place."
Photo: Malibu Lagoon. Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times