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Who's working to block the wetlands restoration project at Malibu Lagoon State Park?

Malibu Lagoon State Beach is the site of a tug-of-war among environmentalists with different priorities for wetlands protection.
Malibu Lagoon State Beach is the site of a tug-of-war among environmentalists with different priorities for wetlands protection.

It's been a crazy day over at Malibu Lagoon. Read up here on what happened today. No bulldozers were ever expected as restoration work began, despite the claims of opponents. What work was expected - basic setup, fencing, framing, surveying and plotting - has been delayed until Monday. 

What I'm finding here in the north-central part of LA is that everything going on in the Malibu Lagoon restoration project is just confusing to the casual observer. Do the surfers oppose or support the project? (Both.) Do environmentalists back the project, or want to block it? (Both.) 

What's indisputable is the fact that the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, working with California State Parks, has long planned a project where they'll drain the western part of the Malibu Lagoon and reshape it, then return what plants and animals they can to the area, in the effort to put a version of restoration on track. 

I write "version of restoration" advisedly. At least 90 percent of California's historic wetlands are gone. Maybe as much as 95%, perhaps as much as 99%. The relationship these intertidal areas have to the urban coast and the Pacific Ocean aren't the same as they once were, and they never will be. When they talk about restoration, the state agencies working on Malibu Lagoon aren't talking about making the region look like a picture from the past. They're talking about restoring the function wetlands had historically. 

You may be hearing about opponents to the Malibu Lagoon gathering in the parking lot there today. They're a pretty diverse bunch. Some of them, like Marcia Hanscom and her partner, Roy van de Hoek, have been opposing the plans to restore the wetlands at the Malibu Lagoon for years. (Save Malibu Lagoon is a project of the Wetlands Defense Fund. Others, like Sea Save, are brand new to the issue.) In between are some surfers including Andy Lyon, and other Malibu locals. 

Their concrete objections fall along three lines. 

  1. LOGISTICS: $8 million for this? In June, when people like to go to the beach and traffic's thick on the Pacific Coast Highway? Those seeking to block the project say it's not worth the economic impacts to local businesses, either.  
  2. WILDLIFE IMPACTS: Native birds and their nests are protected under state and federal laws. Sea Save in particular is worried about impacts to the tidewater goby.  
  3. HUMAN IMPACTS: Opponents have raised concerns that resurfacing and changing the shape of the lagoon will ruin surf breaks. Worse, they say, the project will let loose bacteria that could harm human health. 

The way these objections are expressed varies from Andy Lyon's socialcam videos, in which he attacks other surfers for their support of the restoration project, to Marcia Hanscom's Q&A, the clearest about potential objections. Hanscom and two groups with which she's affiliated have challenged the lagoon restoration project at every opportunity in court.

I've interviewed Hanscom and van de Hoek before. Marcia Hanscom, from her own biography on the Ballona Wetlands site, "has been speaking our for the protection and restoration of wetlands, coastal ecosystems and endangered species since the early 1990s when she lived nearby the Bolsa Chica Wetlands in Huntington Beach and became involved with the Sierra Club in order to preserve more wetlands there than had been offered in a deal to another environmental public interest group." Van der Hoek "has studied marine biology, ornithology, hydrology, geography, botany, mammalogy and wetlands science," was a biology and geology major at Cal State Northridge undergrad, and at present works in environmental education for LA County. 

Their vision for coastal protection differs greatly from that of the scientists and agencies supporting the project. More about the arguments for the lagoon restoration, and the people making those arguments, tomorrow. 

<strong>(Correction: The name a group opposing the Malibu Lagoon project is Wetlands Defense Fund, not Wetlands Defense Center.)