City park receiving $75 million wetland restoration

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On Friday morning, Gordon Haack, a retired machinist from Lomita, was at his usual birding spot, Lake Machado in Harbor City’s Ken Malloy Harbor Regional Park. The park is just minutes from his home, and he visits it weekly during high bird migration periods.

“This is handy for me. I come down here quite a bit to watch birds, walk and exercise,” Haack said.

Minutes before, he’d spotted a hooded oriole in a nearby palm tree.

“I know they’ve been here earlier, but that’s the first one I’ve seen,” Haack said.

It might have been his last chance for a while to make such a peaceful sighting. On Saturday, the city will break ground on a $75 million rehabilitation project for the park. The work, which is expected to continue for about three years, will remove non-native species such as palm trees from inside and around the lake.

Lake Machado is probably best known for being home to “Reggie,” an abandoned pet alligator that resided in the lake and cost the city $200,000 to capture and remove.

The lake is a favorite haunt for many invasive species including exotic plants, snapping turtles and snails. The project aims to remove those species and restore native plant life that will improve water quality in the lake.

“It will be a nice lake. It will be deeper. In the center, you won’t get the plants to grow back up like they do right now,” said Craig Huss, chief estimator for OHL, the company contracted to do the work. “Last summer, this was so shallow, you could walk out there 200 feet. You can almost see it’s only like one foot deep here right now.”

Decades of runoff have dumped chemicals and sediment into the lake. Huss said vacuum barges will suck up about 350,000 tons of sediment from the lake bottom. OHL will also install a new treatment plant that will remove phosphorous from the water.

After completion, Huss said the lake will be seven feet deep with much cleaner water.

Money for the project comes from Proposition O, which authorizes $500 million in bonds for watershed protection projects. A similar-scale restoration project using those funds was performed at Echo Park Lake.

Interim city engineer Deborah Weintraub said that $75 million had been granted to OHL for the work. Weintraub said an additional $35 million had been spent on planning, permitting and other intial costs.

Weintraub said that attendance at the park has been low given its size. She said the rehabilitation would be a step towards remedying that. In addition to restoring the lake’s wetland ecology, OHL will replace footpaths throughout the park.

“It’s really significant in terms of the public for reviving a very large and important space in the community,” Weintraub said. “I think it’s not as pleasant as it could be right now.”

Huss said removal and replanting around the lake would occur in stages, allowing nesting birds and endangered species to remain in the park.

Haack said that he welcomes the incoming improvements.

“It could be a fabulous place, and I understand that at one time it was, but that was before I ever moved here.”

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