LAGUNA NIGUEL — A preliminary state-endorsed plan to give Carlsbad's Batiquitos Lagoon a $15-million face lift was rejected as "totally unacceptable" Tuesday by two developers who own large portions of the coastal wetland.
Representatives of Hunt Properties Inc. and Sammis Properties said the plan would neither work nor create a visually pleasing setting at the lagoon. Instead, the developers advocated adoption of an alternative approach devised by their consultants--and rejected by the state as inhospitable to birds.
State resource officials said that without the developers' support, their proposal to revitalize Batiquitos by dredging it and restoring regular tidal exchange with the ocean could be doomed.
"They are the property owners, and if they oppose a plan the rest of us agree on, it's dead," said Laurie Marcus, who is coordinating the lagoon enhancement project for the state Coastal Conservancy. "We all hope it doesn't come to that, and I don't think it will. But that's where things seem to stand at this point."
Also at risk, given the apparent stalemate, is about $15 million that the Port of Los Angeles has offered to provide for the lagoon project. In a highly unusual deal, the port and the Pacific Texas Pipeline Co. hope to fulfill state and federal requirements that they compensate for building on tideland in Los Angeles Harbor by footing the bill for improvements at Batiquitos.
'Up Against a Time Wall'
Should the parties fail to reach agreement on a plan for the 540-acre lagoon, port officials might choose to spend their dollars at one of several other needy wetlands in Southern California--the Tijuana Estuary or Los Cerritos Marsh near Long Beach, for example. Indeed, port administrators already have shown impatience with the pace of negotiations over the Carlsbad project.
"We like Batiquitos because it's big, it meets our needs and we think everyone shares the same basic goals here," said Vern Hall, project manager for the port. "But we're up against a time wall. We've got to get this thing off the ground and we've got to have agreement on a plan."
Hall said the port's Board of Harbor Commissioners is scheduled to vote on an environmental impact report for Pacific Texas Co.'s ambitious project in late November. He added that the board, betting that neither side would let a $15-million windfall slip away, would likely "take a risk" and give the project a green light regardless of whether agreement on a plan for Batiquitos has been reached.
Officials of the Long Beach-based Pacific Texas Co. hope to begin construction early next year of a 116-acre landfill to support a terminal for their 1,030-mile oil pipeline to refineries in Midland, Tex. Later, the port will build a 340-acre landfill for its own use. Together, the projects will cost about $300 million.
Normally, port officials would "mitigate"--compensate for ecologically sensitive land lost to development--by creating similar wetlands within the San Pedro Harbor. But they are running out of room there and have been forced to look outside the area to fulfill their environmental responsibilities.
The disputed plan was one of several alternative enhancement strategies presented at a meeting here Tuesday involving developers and officials from the port as well as numerous state and federal resource agencies. Each of the alternatives seeks to rid Batiquitos of tons of silt that is choking its plant and marine life and reopen the lagoon to the sea.
While everyone agrees something must be done to save the lagoon, opinion varies widely on just what sort of program is appropriate. Developers eager to build attractive projects are concerned with improving the aesthetic appeal of the lagoon by keeping it filled with water, while state wildlife officials seek to preserve the shallow-water habitat critical to the birds that feed and nest there.