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A Natural Solution

Ventura County Perspective

February 27, 2000

Of all the grandiose dreams and schemes that have been put forth for Ormond Beach over the past 20 years none is so simple, so right, as the one approved last week by the California Coastal Conservancy:

Put it back the way nature made it and keep it that way.

After months of negotiations, state officials have reached an agreement to buy 600 acres at Ormond Beach plus two other sites from Southern California Edison. The Ormond parcel includes 300 acres of upland crop fields, 80 acres of beach and about 220 acres of wetlands--some of the best remaining coastal wetlands in Southern California.

Under the agreement the conservancy would pay $15 million for the Ormond Beach parcel, another $1 million for two parcels totaling 31 acres at Mandalay Dunes--near Harbor Boulevard between McGrath State Beach and Mandalay Beach park in Oxnard--and an additional $1 million for 20 acres at Huntington Beach in Orange County.

For the conservancy, it would be part of a broader effort to restore wetlands for the benefit of wildlife and to protect the properties from future development. For Edison, it would be a way to comply with a mandate to sell off excess land and power plants under utility industry deregulation. Although details are still being worked out, both parties expect the land to change hands by the end of this year.

Ormond Beach is the largest remaining tract of undeveloped coastline in Ventura County. Imperiled birds, such as the California least tern and western snowy plover, inhabit wetlands along the beach. Dunes and bluffs offer dramatic seascapes. Yet this stretch of oceanfront is also home to some of the county's noisiest and dirtiest industry. Surrounding it is a military base, a metal foundry, a sewage plant, a major port, a power plant and a cardboard-recycling mill.

How to resolve that contradiction in a way that restores the degraded wetlands and brings new vitality to adjacent South Oxnard is a dilemma that has bedeviled Oxnard city officials and others for decades.

Although the proposed deal does not include all of the Ormond Beach land, it makes up a vital part of the watershed that could be managed to protect marshes from pollution and urban encroachment. Working with state and local authorities, the conservancy hopes to link the newly acquired land to new sources of freshwater and tidal influences to replenish wetlands with nutrients vital to plants and animals.

"We hope this will be the foundation of one big wetlands complex spanning 3,000 acres from Point Mugu to Port Hueneme," Peter Brand, conservancy project manager, told The Times.

We applaud the hard work through lengthy negotiations that brought this agreement this far.

Restoring the Ormond Beach wetlands to good health and keeping them in their natural state would be a good start toward creating a centerpiece that could pay off for Oxnard in a multitude of ways. The more urban and congested surrounding areas become, the more precious this amazing stretch of undeveloped beachfront will grow.

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