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State Seeks to Buy Coastal Tract for Sanctuary

Environment: Agency hopes to acquire 221 acres near McGrath Lake to protect several threatened or endangered species.


OXNARD — A state agency is negotiating the purchase of 221 acres of rare coastal dunes and wetlands near McGrath State Beach, an acquisition that would increase the size of the park by two-thirds and help protect an array of threatened or endangered species.

Already considered one of the best bird-watching areas in California, the 312-acre McGrath park would expand to include land on three sides of McGrath Lake, a freshwater basin frequented by migrating ducks and endangered water fowl such as the California least tern and the western snowy plover.

The purchase would also set the stage for a cleanup of McGrath Lake, designated a toxic hot spot by state water quality experts, who say that concentrations of the pesticides DDT and chlordane are the highest of anywhere along the California coast.

State officials say that the purchase of the McGrath Lake area and its cleanup, if approved over the next 12 to 18 months, could stand as a model for how to restore a polluted coastal lake while helping to save the state's diminishing stock of wetlands and sand dunes.

"I think it's a wonderful demonstration project," said Steve Treanor, division chief for the state parks department in Southern California. "I've been so encouraged by the response of the property owners who say they want to find a solution here."

Still, more study must be done to fully analyze pollution in the area and come up with a plan to stem the flow of farmland irrigation waters that run into the lake, Treanor said.

Acquisition of three parcels--including an active oil field that spilled 84,000 gallons of crude petroleum into McGrath Lake in 1993--is listed as a high priority for this year by the California Coastal Conservancy's wetlands recovery project.

"We've done the appraisals, and we're in discussions with the property owners," said Peter Brand, the conservancy's point man in Ventura County. "It seems like an obvious consolidation of the state beach into public hands rather than being interrupted by private holdings."

The conservancy's hope is to combine the existing state park, which includes two miles of beach south of the Santa Clara River mouth, with the adjoining McGrath Lake area and a nearby set of rare inland sand dunes, Brand said. Most of the lake is already in the park.

Under a previous agreement, the conservancy is buying 30 acres of sand dunes around the Mandalay power plant at the south end of the state beach. Now it hopes to buy the 90 acres around the lake and 131 acres of dunes and farmland across Harbor Boulevard from the power plant.

"Some of these dunes are rare, even more rare than coastal wetlands, and we've lost 95% of those," Treanor said. The Ventura marsh milkvetch, once thought to be extinct, and the silvery legless lizard have been found on a parcel adjacent to the dunes.

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