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State orders project halted

A Coastal Commission report says work altering part of the Los Cerritos Wetlands in Long Beach is illegal without a permit.

July 11, 2007|Deborah Schoch | Times Staff Writer

The California Coastal Commission's executive director has ordered Bixby Ranch Co. to halt a construction project that altered and filled a piece of the Los Cerritos Wetlands in Long Beach, calling the work a violation of the state Coastal Act.

The commission staff is also investigating two other alleged violations in the sprawling salt marshes on the border between Los Angeles and Orange counties. A pond estimated at five acres has dried up on Bixby land just east of the Trader Joe's off 2nd Street, staff members said Tuesday.

"There are allegations that they were pumping water out of the wetlands area. That is still under investigation," said Aaron McLendon, an enforcement official at the commission's headquarters in San Francisco.

The Los Cerritos Wetlands, at the mouth of the San Gabriel River, are one of the last unprotected coastal wetlands in Southern California. Dotted with oil pumps and cattails, they are at the center of a development fight, with a Home Depot proposed on one side and a Lennar Homes condominium and retail complex on the other.

Two state agencies are hoping to buy the land and restore it, much as the Bolsa Chica wetlands were rejuvenated in Huntington Beach. Bixby Oil and Gas Co. owns much of the land.

The Coastal Commission staff received a report May 10 that grading and vegetation removal had occurred on several thousand square feet of wetlands along Pacific Coast Highway. The staff met with representatives of Bixby and BreitBurn Management Co. and sent them a notice June 21 stating that the Coastal Act barred such work without a permit.

A Bixby representative disagreed and said the work -- described as a pipe repair -- would continue, according to a June 29 cease and desist order from commission Executive Director Peter M. Douglas.

In the order, Douglas told the owner to halt all non-permit work and submit a plan by Friday on how the fill would be removed.

Bixby Vice President Timothy J. King and BreitBurn representative Jeff Winkler did not return telephone calls Tuesday.

Company officials have contacted the commission and hired a biological consultant, McLendon said.

"We are very hopeful that we can work with Bixby," he said. "We hope to come up with an amicable resolution that restores the wetlands and enhances the wetlands that were disturbed."

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