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As project nears, Malibu Lagoon activists vow civil disobedience

May 29, 2012 | 12:57 pm

Malibu lagoon

With work set to begin this week on the hotly contested clean-up of a pollution-choked salt marsh next to a world-renowned Malibu surf spot, law enforcement officials are bracing for civil disobedience.

Activists are staging protests and pledging to stand in the way of advancing bulldozers as state parks contractors prepare to fence off Malibu Lagoon to drain and reshape its channels starting Friday.

It’s the final push in the battle over Malibu Lagoon and the restoration project that has polarized the wealthy beach town.

On one side is a well-organized alliance of surfers, environmental activists, Malibu locals and celebrities like Pamela Anderson and Red Hot Chili Peppers singer Anthony Kiedis, who say the project is too heavy-handed, would destroy a lagoon they contend is already healthy and flatten waves at Surfrider Beach.

The activists have mounted a legal challenge that has delayed the project for a year and have turned out in force to City Council meetings and held roadside protests behind the slogans “Stop the Bulldozers” and “Save Malibu Lagoon.”

On the other side is the state of California, government scientists, a loose contingent of local supporters and prominent environmental groups who say critics are ignoring years of science showing that the lagoon is sick and in need of radical surgery.

Backers of the project have tried -- mostly in vain -- to convince the community that the $8-million restoration will save the lagoon.

The idea to cleanse the lagoon’s sediment-clogged channels and oxygen-deprived waters was conceived more than a decade ago, and -- initially -- without much controversy.

The plan calls for workers to drain 12 acres of the wetland and scoop out more than 1,000 dump-truck loads of sediment. The banks will be reshaped and new vegetation planted, correcting a 1983 project that carved a restored wetland out of an estuary that had been filled with dirt to build baseball diamonds.

The new four-month project, backers say, will create a viable ecosystem with water flowing in and out again, support more plants, birds and fish and have no impact on surfing. It could potentially bring even cleaner water to Surfrider Beach, one of the most polluted in the state.

Opponents suffered what could be a final setback Thursday when a state appeals court denied their petition to halt the restoration, clearing the way for work to begin. But they have vowed to keep fighting.


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-- Tony Barboza

Photo: A thin strip of Surfrider Beach separates Malibu Lagoon from the Pacific Ocean in Malibu. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times