Wetlands and oil operations (copy)

The Los Cerritos Wetlands as seen from the Beach Oil Minerals headquarters lot, with an oil rig pumping in the distance.

A study detailing environmental impacts of restoration efforts at the Los Cerritos Wetlands (LCW) was unanimously certified Thursday, Jan. 7, by the LCW Authority.

The Program Environmental Impact Report (PEIR) covers an overview or conceptual plan for restoration. Mark Stanley, LCWA executive director, said specific restoration projects still will require completion of another EIR before going forward.

"We had a good meeting," Stanley said Friday. "We did have some public comment, and that's a good thing. Our purpose is to engage the public because we're doing this for the public."

There was some opposition to the approval, specifically from the Long Beach Sierra Club Conservation Committee represented by Anna Christensen. She criticized the conceptual plan rather than the PEIR, saying if that restoration approach moves forward it will destroy types of wetlands habitat and violate cultural rights of indigenous people.

A proposed land trade and wetlands restoration project with the current oil operator on the wetlands, Beach Oil Minerals Partners, was a specific target. That plan would move above-ground oil operations to the other side of the Marketplace shopping center and in return give 120 acres of restored wetlands to the public through the LCWA. That project is on hold due to low oil prices and the coronavirus pandemic.

Approval of the PEIR includes accepting a Statement of Overriding Considerations, which means there would be some environmental damage that could not be mitigated, but that the good of restoring the wetlands overrides the damage. There also are specific mitigation measures required when a project threatens endangered species (the burrowing owl and a specific type of sparrow are listed) or cultural archaeological resources — material or remains from historic indigenous peoples.

The LCWA is a joint powers authority that governs the wetlands and is responsible for the land owned by the public. It includes representatives from the cities of Long Beach and Seal Beach, the state Coastal Conservancy and the San Gabriel and Lower Los Angeles Rivers and Mountains Conservancy. Long Beach officials hold two of the seats; Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price represents the city while Seventh District Councilman Roberto Uranga represents the Rivers and Mountains Conservancy.

The wetlands are within Price's City Council district. She is LCWA vice chair.

"I am pleased to see the first tier of this process move forward," Price said Friday, "because it establishes a strong foundation for the long-term restoration of the wetlands."

The certification hearing had been postponed twice, in November and December, when LCWA meetings were cancelled.

This PEIR speaks primarily in generalities because it deals with a nonspecific Conceptual Plan and covers the entire 503 acres of wetlands expected to be restored. Any work will take place in phases dealing with specific areas, with different impacts and different mitigation measures through the lens of the conceptual plan.

The certification by LCWA is the last step for the PEIR because no physical action will be taken on the conceptual plan. Specific restoration projects will go through a CEQA analysis, including approval by the Long Beach City Council and potentially the state Coastal Commission.

The entire conceptual plan and this PEIR are available at the authority's website, intoloscerritoswetlands.org.

Note: This story has been updated to correct the next steps for the PEIR — no further approvals of that document will take place.

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.

Load comments