Mati Waiya, a Chumash elder, performs a blessing ceremony on Friday at Malibu… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )
A California State Parks official said Friday that the agency would postpone the start of its controversial Malibu Lagoon restoration project until Monday, in part to avoid interfering with a weekend surfing event at Surfrider Beach to benefit children with autism.
The state agreed to delay the launch at the request of Skylar Peak, a Malibu surfer and newly elected councilman, said Craig Sap, the state parks' Angeles district superintendent.
"We didn't want to detract from that event," Sap said.
But opponents of the restoration plan contended the delay was prompted by concerns about the state's plan to drain the lagoon and re-sculpt its banks and channels.
Sap acknowledged that the contractor has presented a different drainage plan that is being reviewed by an independent licensed engineer.
A regional water board official said his agency would scrutinize any new drainage plan to determine whether the state would have to seek a new permit.
About 30 activists turned out under a foggy sky along Pacific Coast Highway early Friday in the expectation that workers would be descending on the lagoon with heavy equipment to begin construction. Opponents hoisted cardboard signs and even a surfboard that read "Save the Lagoon." Passing motorists honked to show support.
But the work crews never arrived.
The state's plan calls for workers to drain 12 acres of the wetland and scoop out tons of sediment. The banks will be reshaped and new vegetation planted in an effort to correct a 1983 project that carved a restored wetland out of an estuary that had been filled with dirt to build baseball diamonds.
Backers say the four-month project will support more plants, birds and fish and create a viable ecosystem with ocean water once again flowing in and out. An alliance of surfers, environmental activists and Malibu residents say the project would destroy the lagoon and flatten waves at world-famous Surfrider Beach.
As opponents and supporters looked on, Mati Waiya, a Chumash tribal elder, said a prayer for the lagoon's health and urged the two sides to "come together."
"It's almost like going into surgery," he said. "We're here to pray for bringing the lagoon back to health."