The battle between environmentalists and developers over the revitalization of Carlsbad's Batiquitos Lagoon appeared at an end Friday as state officials announced a tentative agreement on the details of the lagoon's $15-million face lift.
The plan, announced by the state Coastal Conservancy, would involve extensive dredging and restructuring of the long-abused lagoon to provide about 220 acres of deep water and 165 acres of tidal mud flats. The plan also retains most of the existing marshland.
"It was a matter of massaging the proposal and working out a compromise," said Laurie Marcus, project manager for the Conservancy. "I think this is a fair one. Everyone gave in a little bit."
An earlier plan had been rejected as "totally unacceptable" by two large property owners hoping to develop the northern shore of the lagoon. They had complained that the plan provided for "too much mud flats"--nice for birds but not aesthetically pleasing.
The new plan cuts the amount of mud flats from 213 acres and increases the deep water from 167 acres. It also places most of the mud flats on the south shore--the developers want open water near their developments.
"The landowners fiddled with our proposal just a bit," Marcus said. " . . . We compromised a little bit in their favor."
Among the questions still to be decided are where the dredged sediment will be deposited and who will maintain the lagoon, Marcus said. Also to be determined is the course of a path that is to run along the northern shore of the lagoon.
The project is to be financed by the Port of Los Angeles, as its compensation for being allowed to build on tideland in Los Angeles Harbor. The unusual agreement aims at satisfying federal and state laws requiring mitigation of damage to tidal wetlands. Because there is no undeveloped space left in Los Angeles Harbor, the port chose to fix up Batiquitos Lagoon.
For years, the wide, shallow, 540-acre lagoon has been cut off from the ocean and deluged with silt from erosion upstream and on nearby hillsides. As a result, it dries up in summer, emitting an odor that neighboring residents say they won't miss.
Although there is general agreement on the need for the Batiquitos revitalization, there has been disagreement on how to do it. Developers want to enhance the lagoon's appearance by keeping it full of water. Wildlife officials want to preserve the shallow-water habitat critical to birds that nest and feed there.
On Friday, the Coastal Conservancy announced that representatives of the developers, state agencies, the City of Carlsbad and local environmental groups had arrived at a tentative agreement that would accomplish both goals.
"The enhancement plan will create an aesthetically pleasing environment while protecting wildlife habitat," Marcus said. "It represents what can be done when all parties work together despite their differing objectives."
Representatives from all sides expressed cautious and not-so-cautious optimism.
"This is outstanding!" said Anne Omsted, president of the Batiquitos Lagoon Foundation, a citizens' group. " . . . Now we'll have water flushing the lagoon all year round, and we'll have an absolutely healthy habitat instead of a dying lagoon."
"I think it meets the needs of everybody concerned," said Michael Sotak, vice president of Pacific Texas Pipeline Co., which is involved in the Port of Los Angeles project. "I think what you've got is a mix in the plan. So I think it is a happy medium."
Carlsbad Mayor Mary Casler pointed out that the agreement has yet to be ratified by city officials. But, she said, "As long as everyone has agreed to those figures, I'm sure the city will go along with it, too."
Larry Clemens, vice president of Hunt Properties Inc., one of the development firms, also noted that the agreement is not yet firm. However, he said he believed that his company's technical consultants had reached substantial agreement with the other groups.
The next steps will include completion of final drawings and a backup report describing the enhancement plan, said Peter Grenell, executive officer of the California Coastal Commission. He said he expected that the work would be finished this month.
Grenell said the agencies will have to agree on the distribution of responsibility for the lagoon's long-term operation and maintenance. Discussions are to start shortly on allocation of costs and duties among the Port of Los Angeles, Carlsbad and the landowners.
Grenell said he could not predict when the project might begin. After the agreements are ratified, he said, the port must apply for a variety of permits and approvals from federal and state wildlife and coastal agencies.
But he said none of those obstacles appears insurmountable.