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Malibu Lagoon Bulldozing and Restoration, Bitterly Fought, Gets the OK from Judge

By Hillel Aron

Gentleman, start your bulldozers. Malibu Lagoon is getting a facelift.

In San Francisco Superior Court, Judge Ernest H. Goldsmith ruled against the Wetlands Defense Fund, Access For All, and the Coastal Law Enforcement Action Network in their lawsuit to stop the Malibu Lagoon restoration project.

The judge spent most of the four-and-a-half-hour hearing yesterday questioning the groups opposed to the restoration.

"The burden of proof was on them," says Suzanne Goode of California State Parks. Goode said she felt great and was happy that work could finally begin next summer.

A small group of environmental activists, led by Marcia Hanscom of the Wetlands Defense Fund, tried to stop the restoration, arguing that man-made fixes of wetlands could leave the ecosystem worse off rather than restoring it.

In May, Goldsmith handed the opponents of dredging and restoring a victory of sorts, issuing a temporary injunction and delaying the project for a year. (See the LA Weekly story, The Battle For Malibu Lagoon).

Proponents of the dredging, bulldozing and restoring plan say the ecosystem beneath the surface of the lagoon is deteriorating rapidly, and that the western channels of the estuary have to be reconfigured to improve the flow of oxygen.

Hanscom and her allies say the project is at best unnecessary, and at worst, will harm dozens of species in the beautiful lagoon, including the tidewater gobi.

According to Jonathan Friedman of Malibu Patch:

"Goldsmith rejected all the arguments by the three environmental groups that filed the lawsuit except for one technical issue. He said the commission properly 'analyzed all feasible alternatives to the project' and chose the one that was 'least damaging to achieve the goals.' Goldsmith also said he was satisfied with the mitigation measures that would be taken to protect the lagoon's endangered species."

In a statement released hours after the hearing, Hanscom said, "We are extremely disappointed in the Judge's ruling. We had hoped we could look towards a less extreme, non-invasive and balanced solution to the habitat, water quality and public access challenges at Malibu Lagoon. We will be considering our legal options and determining our best course of action for protecting this important place."

She added: "How could bulldozing a fragile wetland ecosystem be considered restoration?"

Work is scheduled to begin June of 2012.


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