Every year, an average of 13,800 acres of wetlands are lost in the lower 48 states, but on the Westside, Los Angeles is fighting to save 600 acres of Ballona Wetlands.
Once a 2,000-acre expanse of coastal habitat that stretched from Playa del Rey to Venice (1,087 acres of which served as industrialist Howard Hughes' private airport and birthplace of the "Spruce Goose" airplane), the wetland has since been faced with increased congestion and environmental degradation that make it harder and harder for flora and fauna to flourish.
The Ballona Wetlands Restoration Project (BWRP) is a long-term science-based plan to turn the space surrounded by Westchester, Marina del Rey and Playa Vista by LAX into a thriving ecological reserve.
"There is no other opportunity like this in Los Angeles," says Mary Small, Deputy Executive Director of the Coastal Conservancy. "When it's restored, it will be an important part of the natural eco-system and be a place where people can come and experience nature." The Ballona Wetlands represent one of the last, restorable wetlands in Los Angeles County, whose soil characteristics, hydrology and seed bank allow for restoration.
After releasing a comprehensive report piecing together the historical landscape of the Ballona Creek watershed last February, the project is now beginning its environmental review process by soliciting inputs from the public through a scoping meeting to be held at the site on Thursday, August 16, from 4 to 7 pm.
David Lawhead, environmental scientist for California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) emphasized that this meeting is not "a technical discussion about the pros and cons of alternatives. It's basically a request to hear from the public on the general idea of restoration." At this stage, there are no finalized technical studies and alternatives that will be firm enough to be presented to the public.
What DFG has released however is a tantalizing broad strokes proposal that in will open the area to visitors for walking, biking, birdwatching and educational activities. The notice also hints at "removing concrete levees on Ballona Creek to restore river and marsh habitat between Marina del Rey and the Westchester Bluffs, west of Lincoln Boulevard." Informational boards will be made available orienting the public to the research that's already been done and the whole environmental review process that will be undertaken. The team just needs to know what the public wants them to study and take into consideration
With no set plan in place, there still isn't a price tag to be talked about. State bond funds approved by the Coastal Conservancy covers environmental review, planning and permitting, but nobody has been lined up to pay for the actual restoration. Agencies hope that by undergoing this process a more concrete plan approved by the public would be firmed up, so potential funding sources can be found for restoration.
The first in a series of public comment periods during the environmental review process, the question of what should be done with the Ballona Wetlands will be ripe for debate. The Sierra Club, Ballona Institute and Wetlands Defense Fund have already expressed opposition to the planned restoration, saying some rare and endangered species have already made the wetlands their home and any changes could harm an already precarious situation.
The meeting will be held August 16, 4:00-7:00 p.m. at the Fiji Gateway entrance to the Ballona Wetlands on 13720 Fiji Way, Marina del Rey, CA 90292. The site is across from Fisherman's Village and the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors.
Written comments will also be accepted until September 10, 2012. Send letters by email to Donna.McCormick@icfi.com, or to:
Ballona Wetlands Restoration Project
c/o Donna McCormick
1 Ada, Suite 100
Irvine, CA 92816
Visit the wetlands by attending one of several tours the Friends of Ballona Wetlands conducts every month. Check their page (www.ballonafriends.org) for details.