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State agency says U.S. cleared wildlife habitat without permit

January 17, 2013 |  8:59 am

Botanist Ellen Zunino of Monrovia visits the Sepulveda Basin vegetation management area in December. Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must provide information to a regulatory agency by Feb. 11 about its decision to clear 43 acres of wetlands in the Sepulveda Basin and fill in a pond used by migrating waterfowl.

The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board issued the directive Wednesday. Sepulveda Basin is an engineered flood control zone for the river.

"The corps did not notify us before it proceeded to destroy wetlands, and that is a great concern to us," said Maria Mehranian, chairwoman of the water quality control board. "The federal Clean Water Act requires anyone working in wetlands to obtain a permit from us. They failed to do so."

The board will determine later whether enforcement actions are needed to prevent such unauthorized activities in the future, the agency said in a letter to the corps.

Col. Mark Toy, head of the corps' Los Angeles district, was unavailable for comment. But corps spokesman Jay Field said, "We are working with the Regional Water Quality Control Board to provide information we believe will address any concerns."

Separately, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service authorities are looking into possible violations of endangered species protections in the Sepulveda Basin.

On Dec. 10, corps crews cut down the swath of basin greenery just west of the 405 Freeway and south of Burbank Boulevard, destroying what had been a lush urban refuge for king snakes, bobcats and white pelicans.

The area existed for three decades as a designated wildlife preserve. In 2010 it was reclassified as a corps "vegetation management area" with new five-year a mission of replacing trees and shrubs with native grasses as part of an effort to improve access for corps staffers, increase public safety and discourage crime.

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-- Louis Sahagun

Photo: Botanist Ellen Zunino of Monrovia visits the Sepulveda Basin vegetation management area in December. Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times.

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