oil pumps on wetlands

Oil pumps working on the Los Cerritos Wetlands as seen from Pacific Coast Highway.

Environmental impacts of restoring Los Cerritos Wetlands have been studied, and that report is ready for certification.

This is an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the overall conceptual restoration plan, according to Mark Stanley, Los Cerritos Wetlands Authority's executive director. That means another EIR will be required for each specific wetlands restoration project.

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 Commission and the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers and Mountains Conservancy.

"One of the overarching goals of the city, and one I fully support, is to facilitate the complete cleanup and restoration of all of our wetland areas particularly the Los Cerritos Wetlands area," said City Councilwoman Suzie Price, whose Third District includes the wetlands, wrote in a statement. She represents Long Beach on the LCWA.

"And while I am reluctant to discuss the specifics of the EIR," she added, "or the specifics of the proposed project at this time because the certification of the EIR and project approval will eventually  be presented to the (Long Beach City) Council for review, approval and certification, and I want to keep an open mind on the issues, I am very much supportive of the concept of this project and feel that it is one that is long overdue."

Certification of the EIR and a statement of overriding considerations was supposed to be considered last Thursday, Nov. 5, by the authority. But technical issues forced cancellation of that meeting. Stanley said the meeting has been tentatively rescheduled for Dec. 3.

While the certification meeting has been postponed, the Final Program Environmental Impact Report has been released. It can be read at intoloscerritoswetlands.org.

That report details what might happen to components of the surrounding environment should a restoration program take place. Those components range from disturbance of cultural artifacts or human remains to habitat of endangered species.

Study results are reported as areas where there is little or no impact, areas where there is impact that can be mitigated and areas where there are impacts that cannot be fully mitigated. It's that last category that usually causes debate — and results in a "Statement of Overriding Considerations."

That statement contends that the goal of the project is more important than the impacts it would cause. In this case, the goal is the restoration of the wetlands.

This EIR speaks primarily in generalities because it 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.

"This provides a framework," Stanley said. "Each project requires its own EIR, the entire process. So the public will continue to have a chance to comment on the issues."

Even so, there are some specific measures required in this overall EIR. Two birds, the Belding's Savannah Sparrow and the burrowing owl, get special treatment. Special surveys are required if it is suspected those birds live in an area, and if they are found, that severely limits when and how work can be done.

The most significant impact in the program EIR is to cultural resources. According to the report, "There are 23 potential historical resources within or immediately adjacent to the proposed program area, including 15 archaeological resources (11 prehistoric sites, 3 historic-period sites, and 1 multicomponent site) and 8 historic architectural resources." In addition to that, the entire Los Cerritos Wetlands is considered to be part of a "tribal cultural landscape."

That calls for 13 full pages of mitigation measures (in a 78-page report) that includes 17 different approaches. They include a separate historic resources assessment for every project, onsite monitoring by a qualified architectural historian, studies by archaeologists for presence of artifacts underground and more. Requirements multiply exponentially if human remains are found.

When the Los Cerritos Wetlands Authority does meet to certify this EIR and the Statement of Overriding Considerations, public comment will be allowed — but only on the approval, not on specifics of the EIR. Notification of the meeting will be on the LCWA website, intoloscerritoswetlands.org.

  

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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