wetlands map

The Steamshovel Slough could be protected government property soon.

A land swap that could net Long Beach most of the Long Beach portion of the Los Cerritos Wetlands in exchange for just more than five acres was approved in concept Monday by the Los Cerritos Wetlands Authority.

The authority includes representatives from Seal Beach, Long Beach, the Rivers and Mountains Conservancy and the state Coastal Conservancy. That board met Monday and granted Synergy Oil (also known as Los Cerritos Wetlands, LLC) an option to trade for 5.1 acres of LCWA land for 77.3 acres of the Synergy Oil Field, with an option for the other 69.92 acres. The first phase of the transfer would include 42.2 acres sometimes known as the Steamshovel Slough, which already is functioning wetlands.

This land trade option is the first step of Synergy’s plan to stop oil operations on the land east of Pacific Coast Highway between Second Street and the Los Cerritos Channel. Synergy announced in 2015 that it wanted to slant drill from the Wetlands Authority land and from part of the Pumpkin Patch, a parcel of land south of the Marketplace shopping center owned by Lyon Housing.

“The most important part of this is that they give us Steamshovel Slough,” said Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price, whose district includes the wetlands. She also serves on the Wetlands Authority. “They also would restore part of the wetlands through a mitigation bank… We would get possession of the slough if they decided not to go through with the deal, and it is already pristine and fruitful wetlands habitat.”

A second Long Beach City Councilman, Roberto Uranga (Seventh District) also is on the LCWA board. He represents the Rivers and Mountains Conservancy, and also serves on the state Coastal Commission.

That part of the deal assumes that Synergy successfully receives the permits necessary to move forward with its new approach to drilling the oil field. That requires a complete Environmental Impact Report under the California Environmental Quality Act, and a Notice of Preparation for that study has been filed.

Earlier this year, Synergy added partners, creating Beach Oil Mineral Partners, LLC, specifically to move the wetlands project forward. Synergy CEO John McKeown say he was CEO of that company as well.

The oil group already has an option in place with Lyon Housing for operations at the Pumpkin Patch. Because an earthquake fault runs through the oil field, the 5 acres of LCWA land at the northeastern corner of Studebaker Road and Westminster/Second Street is needed to drill on the eastern side of the fault.

McKeown has said he wants to eventually remove almost all of the surface oil operations on the 154 acres of wetlands his firm controls. The first step would be restoration of the northern half of the property, including Steamshovel Slough.

To do the restoration work, Synergy wants to create a mitigation bank where entities like the Port of Long Beach would pay for environmental restoration there in exchange for mitigation credits it needs for development around the port. That plan requires approval from the state Coastal Commission, as does the oil drilling approach and construction of new facilities.

Eventually, Synergy would clear the southern half of the wetlands of oil operations and restore it with native plants as well. The deal signed Monday would give the Wetlands Authority first right of refusal for title to that land once the work is done.

Synergy’s timeline is a long one — McKeown estimated earlier this year that it would be 40 years before all the oil operation had been moved. But the schedule for the land swap is much shorter, with the option expiring after four years.

In addition to the promise to transfer Steamshovel Slough, Synergy paid $300,000 for the option on the 5-acre parcel. Both pieces of property must be appraised before the deal goes through.

But pending that, Synergy would only get $200,000 back if it cancels the deal after the first year, and $100,000 back if it pulls out before the end of two years.

The entire option agreement is available as part of the Los Cerritos Wetlands Authority board minutes at the website, intoloscerritoswetlands.org.

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

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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