Tidal marsh or ‘fake habitat’? California environmental project draws criticism, money from local officials
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Environmental campaigners, state officials and other interested parties are once again talking about a controversial project known as the Laguna Beach Greenbelt, which will use a tidal lagoon and some green space to create wildlife habitat and habitat corridors along the northern California ocean.
The project, an outgrowth of a California Department of Fish and Wildlife program to encourage native fish populations and increase the amount of coastal wetland habitat, is intended to preserve habitat that, without the project, would be lost to development and eventually submerged by the ocean. But the project also has raised concerns that it is a potential threat to tidal wetlands and that it is being funded by a local beach community that is seeking to protect a rare tidal marsh for its access to the ocean.
The Laguna Beach Greenbelt Project and the project’s backers, the Friends of Laguna Beach, say their aim is to make the area more attractive to commercial development that would be more resilient after storms and erosion. They say the project would create more wildlife habitat and encourage the development of tourist-oriented residential and commercial infrastructure that would improve the area after storms.
The greenbelt project has been active for many years, with community meetings and meetings with state authorities. However, it has received few public comments or hearings, and no public meetings have taken place.
Tidal wetlands, which are the only kind of wetlands known to exist in California, are threatened by the construction of the Greenbelt because they would be harmed by the project’s construction. Tidal wetlands typically are located just a few feet from the high-tide line and are subject to flooding and erosion.
Laguna Beach Mayor Gary Monahan wrote an Oct. 16 letter to the Laguna Beach City Council to express concerns about the project and suggested that the city have input in a public outreach process. He also suggested that the city find other ways to help fund the project