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Ventura County

Plan Charts Santa Clara River Recovery

Environment: Proposal targets a stretch of the waterway east of Piru, polluted by oil spilled in the '94 Northridge quake.


Environmental officials on Wednesday released a draft plan to restore a 16-mile stretch of the Santa Clara River that was damaged when an oil pipeline ruptured during the 1994 Northridge earthquake, sending tens of thousands of gallons of oil into the watershed.

"This work can bring damaged ecosystems back to their pre-spill condition, so wildlife can flourish there," said Harlan Henderson, an administrator with the state Fish and Game Department's Office of Spill Prevention and Response.

The proposal was developed by Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Several restoration projects are listed in the draft plan, including the purchase of land along the river and establishment of permanent conservation easements; the control of invasive nonnative plant species and continuous monitoring.

A $7.1-million settlement paid by Arco after the earthquake will fund the restoration projects.

About 190,000 gallons of oil damaged or destroyed about 100 acres of plants and 150 acres of river sediment and killed an undetermined number of fish, bird and wildlife species along a stretch of the river between Santa Clarita to just east of Piru in Ventura County, officials said.

The 130-mile Four Corners Pipe Line runs from Kern County oil fields to South Bay refineries.

During the magnitude 6.8 temblor, the 10-inch diameter pipe ruptured in several places, causing spills into the Santa Clara River near Valencia and a leak near O'Melveny Elementary School in San Fernando, which fueled fires that destroyed cars and homes.

The settlement under the federal Oil Pollution Act stipulates that funds must be used for habitat rehabilitation, vegetation replacement and protection of Santa Clara River watershed and wildlife.

The 100-mile river, which flows from the San Gabriel Mountains to the ocean, is one of the last natural river systems in Southern California, officials said.

The river's watershed covers about 1,600 square miles and supports endangered and threatened species such as the western snowy plover, least Bell's vireo and arroyo toad.

"I think it is wonderful that finally a plan is coming out because people were concerned about where the money went from the settlement," said Lynne Plambeck, president of the citizens group Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment.

"Everyone will be ecstatic that the agencies will acquire land and conservation easements, because that is the only way to protect the river," she said.

A public meeting on the plan is scheduled for 4 p.m. Jan. 15 at Robert J. Lagomarsino Visitor Center, Channel Islands National Park, 1901 Spinnaker Drive, Ventura.

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