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Ballona Wetlands at Risk, Or Are They?

Some say the expedited process voted in by the Board of Supervisors won't allow for proper public discourse as to how to approach the Ballona Wetlands.

The Ballona Wetlands are the subject of controversy in terms of how to handle levees that sustain them.
The Ballona Wetlands are the subject of controversy in terms of how to handle levees that sustain them.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday authorized a $1.5 million agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to expedite approval of changes to federal levees in Los Angeles County, despite protests from Marina del Rey residents worried that it would mean bulldozing a wetlands habitat.

The Department of Public Works will now be able to pay the Army Corps of Engineers to quickly approve priority projects. The projects listed as priorities over the next three years include the restoration of the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve, a 600-acre open space near Marina del Rey.

A restoration project seems an unlikely target for protests by environmentalists, but one of seven alternatives under consideration drew fire Tuesday.

Ballona Creek is currently contained within a concrete flood control system built by the Army Corps decades ago. One proposal includes removing the concrete levee between Culver Boulevard and the marina and redistributing 1 to 2 million cubic yards of soil to create a more natural, meandering path for the creek.

The Friends of Ballona Wetlands said rerouting the channel would create a more natural ecosystem. The wetlands are currently cut off from the creek and tidal waters that would otherwise form natural channels along the plains, a spokesman said.

"(We have) long advocated for the comprehensive tidal restorations of the area," Friends' development director Brent Peich told the board. "Every day that this critical habitat and public open space project is delayed, those infilled areas further degrade."

But others, including the Sierra Club, argued that changes to the levee are too invasive, would hurt wildlife in the protected wetlands habitat and increase the danger of flooding. Others argued that it would route pollution from more urban areas of the county through Ballona Creek.

"Wetlands around Los Angeles have disappeared at a staggering rate," said Sierra Club member Kent Minault. "Any governmental action notably removing the levees that keep out polluted runoff and that further endangers (bird) species is a crime."

There are many more environmental and regulatory hurdles that will need to be cleared before any of the seven proposals being evaluated is approved, according to public works officials and the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission.

But those opposed to removing the levee said the board's effort to expedite permits would limit public input.

"This wording is basically carte blanche for approval for destructive activities of this important ecosystem," said Los Angeles resident Bruce Campbell.

An Army Corps representative countered that expediting the process amounted only to devoting scarce Army Corps resources to review alternatives, not "skipping of steps or any kind of reduction in public review."

The board voted 4-0 to approve the agreement with the Army Corps, with Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky abstaining.

- City News Service

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