open channel rendering

The open channel will connect Colorado Lagoon, top, and Marine Stadium.

Long Beach Harbor Commissioners voted Monday to pay $26.3 million to finance construction of an open channel between Colorado Lagoon and Marine Stadium, through Marina Vista Park.

In return, the Port of Long Beach will receive mitigation credits — credits required by the state to mitigate habitat destruction when terminals or other infrastructure is expanded. The credits will be banked until they are needed; that plan was approved in February by the California Coastal Commission.

“The board is pleased to partner with the city to revitalize an environmental asset that serves all of Long Beach as a place to rest, play and gather,” Tracy Egoscue, president of the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners, said in a release. “Restoring and improving the Colorado Lagoon will allow marine and coastal wildlife to thrive, while also offering recreational opportunities for our community.”

The open channel is the culmination of a Colorado Lagoon restoration plan begun in 2001. A 933-foot-long underground culvert running beneath Marina Vista Park had been put in to maintain tidal flow in the lagoon, allowing water to circulate. But that pipe and its entrances in the lagoon and Marine Stadium had clogged, limiting water flow to the point the lagoon became nearly stagnant, causing water quality to plummet.

A first phase of restoration cleared the pipe and dredged tons of contaminated sediment from the lagoon floor. The port provided more than $2.3 million to fund that earlier phase of the lagoon restoration. The lagoon now gets consistently high grades for water quality.

At the same time, city planners and environmentalists debated ways to keep the tidal flow unimpeded to maintain water circulation. After multiple public meetings and adjustments, a plan to create an open channel with plant and wildlife habitat was approved at city and state levels.

That plan includes reconfiguration and restoration of Marina Vista Park and bridges at Eliot and Colorado streets. The channel itself will have protection measures to keep unattended children out.

But there was no funding source, and the plan was approved in the midst of the Great Recession, so options were few, according to Eric Lopez, manager of the Project Management Bureau in Public Works. Lopez has been involved since the beginning of planning for the open channel more than a decade ago.

So Lopez and other city officials came up with the mitigation bank approach. It is the first time the bank idea has been tried; a similar approach is being considered for potential restoration of the Los Cerritos Wetlands.

"It took a highly complex instrument to create the mitigation bank," Lopez said earlier this year. "That's what took us so much time. The document is more than a thousand pages long."

The February approval was the first time the Coastal Commission has approved a mitigation bank. At the presentation Monday, it was pointed out that this deal will allow the Port of Long Beach to earn mitigation credits locally instead of outside the city, offering opportunities to promote the partnership.

The deal must still receive the blessing of the City Council. Once that is done, the design will be completed and construction will start next year. No timing for ending sports teams and recreation access to Marina Vista Park has been released.

The construction is expected to take 18 months to two years, with an opening in 2022.

Harry Saltzgaver can be reached at hsalt@gazettes.com.

NOTE: This story has been updated to include comment from the Harbor Commission.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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