"I feel that when mitigation measures are undertaken, they should be allowed to be credited to those projects as close to home as possible," Flores said.
But Nitsos does not think trading fresh water for saltwater is a good idea.
"That's really trading walnuts for oranges, not just apples for oranges," he said. "We're talking loss of marine habitat, and that's what we'd like to get back. The first thing that I would look for is staying at least within the . . . marine system."
The problem at Batiquitos Lagoon is that it is cut off from the ocean and tends to dry up and smell in the summertime. The restoration plan calls for massive dredging to deepen the 596-acre lagoon and installation of a mechanical system to sweep cobbles and sand from the lagoon's mouth. The sweeping would prevent the mouth from closing and allow the lagoon to be nourished by daily infusions of saltwater.
This "tidal flushing," as it is called, is expected to enhance fish and invertebrate populations and reduce the summertime odors.
The restoration project, however, is still in its preliminary stages.
Los Angeles port officials say that, before they chose to restore the Batiquitos Lagoon, they reviewed potential sites emphasizing those near Los Angeles.
The one Los Angeles County site on the list was the Los Cerritos wetlands in Long Beach. But it was ruled out for three reasons: the land is privately owned, which meant the port would have to buy it; the wetlands are dotted with oil wells, which meant the port would have to arrange for the wells to continue operating, and the area is not big enough to compensate for the loss of marine life in San Pedro Bay.
Despite Nitsos' aversion to "trading walnuts for oranges," port and environmental officials agree that the day may come when ports and other developers will not be able to replace precisely the type of environmental resources they destroy in Southern California.
The ports have extensive plans for development, with the so-called 2020 Plan--named for the year it extends to--calling for them to fill in about 2,400 acres.
Included in that plan, which is still in its preliminary stages, is the proposed 106-acre landfill that prompted the Batiquitos restoration. The Long Beach-based Pacific Texas Pipeline Co. plans to use the landfill to support a terminal for an 1,030-mile oil pipeline to refineries in Midland, Tex.
Nitsos said he does not believe there is enough coastal wetland in need of restoration to compensate for all 2,400 acres of landfill. Under the state's formula, the Batiquitos restoration will, at a maximum, compensate for 445 acres of fill.
Port officials have discussed several possible alternatives, among them building artificial reefs to create a marine habitat rather than restoring existing sites, or establishing a "mitigation bank," in which the ports would deposit money into an account and let the state handle restoration projects.