Judge OKs Malibu Lagoon restoration to mixed reviews

A view of the Malibu Lagoon.
A view of the Malibu Lagoon. cydog66/Flickr (cc by-nc-nd)

The Malibu Lagoon restoration project can go forward. That's the decision of a San Francisco judge who’d put the brakes on the effort earlier this year. Not everyone is pleased with the decision to restore circulation to the lagoon's brackish waters.

On Thursday a judge lifted his preliminary injunction on the restoration and affirmed the California Coastal Commission's decision to permit the restoration of the lagoon on one of the state's most popular and scenic stretches of coast, reconfiguring an area where Malibu Creek meets the Pacific Ocean at Surfrider Beach.

The judge had imposed a delay to consider a lawsuit some environmental groups had filed. They claim that the restoration plan is invasive and extreme, but the judge ruled that draining and bulldozing at the site can move forward because the Coastal Commission had considered all alternatives — and the project won’t block access to Surfrider Beach.

Marcia Hanscome is a spokeswoman for the opposition who said her group will reconsider their legal options and look to determine what they believe is the best course of action for protecting the area. Hanscome says she believes the plan approved Thursday is too extreme.

The project has the support of Santa Monica Baykeeper, Surfrider and Sierra Club chapters, but last year other conservation groups filed a lawsuit in San Francisco to stop the project. The Wetlands Defense Fund, Coastal Law Enforcement Action Network and Access for All claimed the effort would damage sensitive habitat and demolish a public access point.

The stalled State Parks plan may resume in June. It aims to restore habitat and water quality to the polluted 13-acre Malibu Lagoon by dredging and reshaping the wetland. The multimillion-dollar plan calls for reconfiguring the three channels into a single wider channel that scientists believe will allow for better water flow and encourage a larger variety of birds and marine life. A bridge path to Surfrider Beach would be removed to make room for the new wider channel, and a second entrance to the beach would be widened and amenities would be added, including picnic tables and bird-watching areas.

In May, a judge issued an injunction, one that San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ernest Goldsmith this week lifted. The decision, which was celebrated by the project's proponents, will allow the work to resume in June 2012.

Now part of a state park, the wetlands were used as a dump by the state Transportation Department until the 1970s, when it was converted into baseball fields.

An effort to restore the wetlands in 1983 dredged out a lagoon and created three channels, but also resulted in stagnant water. With little oxygen in the water for fish, green scum and dead zones thrived in the channels, according to scientists.

This story has been updated.

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