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Bolsa Chica debate may be nearing end

October 14, 2004

To say the fight to keep the Bolsa Chica wetlands from being

developed is one of the most contentious issues to face the city of

Huntington Beach is akin to saying kids like Halloween candy.

No other issue has gripped and rocked city politics more over the

last three decades than the arguments between pro-development forces

and environmentalists over what do with the oil fields and mesa that

lie beside the coastal ecological reserve on the northwestern edge of

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town.

With the beginning stages of a $65-million wetland restoration

project now underway, the day when we can all say the debate has

ended is not far off.

To be sure, the commencement of that restoration is a far cry from

the original proposals by landowner Signal Landmark to turn the

property into a marina and residential development that would have

featured an open ocean harbor entrance and some 5,700 homes and

massive wetland destruction.

While some proponents of development have derided the wetlands as

a swamp, most clear-thinking people know that preservation of coastal

tidelands is a crucial piece of the ecological chain of life for all

of the animal kingdom, including us.

That's why the fight was so bitterly fought.

And no group fought it more valiantly in the beginning days of the

battle than the Amigos de Bolsa Chica. While other groups -- most

notably the Bolsa Chica Land Trust -- took up and continued the fight

in the later years, the Amigos brought the issue of tideland and

wildlife habitat destruction into the forefront early on and made the

Bolsa Chica a worthy prize.

The result was years of litigation and settlement agreements, and

the agreement by the landowner, Signal Landmark, to eliminate and

restructure a large portion of the development and turn over some 900

acres of lower wetlands to the state for $25 million. Part of that

deal included an agreement by the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach

to kick in some millions of dollars toward the restoration effort as

a reparation of sorts for the destruction of tidelands by the ports.

Now, the sweet taste of that hard-fought victory will begin as

state officials push on with the restoration project that will

eliminate a vast chunk of oil wells and create a tidal inlet at

Pacific Coast Highway, on the southern end of Bolsa Chica State

Beach.

The result will be an increase in coastal marshes that will not

only benefit myriad birds, fish and plant life critical to the

environment, but our children and our children's children for years

to come.

Unfortunately, the debate over the Bolsa Chica is not altogether

final. The landowner is still haggling over what to do with the mesa

and is threatening to kill a proposed sale of the land if it doesn't

get its way with the Coastal Commission on its remaining, albeit

small, development plans.

Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail in that case.

But no matter what happens in that last leg of discussion, it

can't dampen the excitement and pride that the Amigos and others who

have fought so long must now be feeling.

We congratulate them on a victory that was so worth all the blood,

sweat and tears that were shed. We owe you all a debt of gratitude.

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