The Colorado Lagoon could soon be connected to Marine Stadium by way of a $26 million project that would create a channel between the two bodies of water by removing part of Marina Vista Park.

Restoring the lagoon has been in the works for over a decade and this portion of the project serves as a continuation of what was originally granted by the California Coastal Commission in 2009.

That permit allowed the city to dredge the lagoon, re-contour its banks and install trash collection devices as well as clear the underground pipe, or culvert, that currently connects the lagoon to Marine Stadium.

However, the culvert has not allowed the lagoon to interact with tidal waters as was originally intended.

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“That culvert was not built deep enough or wide enough, so its current tidal exchange and water circulation is stunted,” said Eric Lopez, a project manager with Long Beach Public Works. “What this restoration will do is eliminate that impediment to water flow and will have a significant impact on the health and vitality of the water.”

In order to provide better circulation to the lagoon, the city and advocates want to remove the westernmost portion of Marina Vista Park to create a tidal channel. The project would include leveling some of the park’s uneven terrain to create replacement sports fields that will be lost during the creation of the open channel.

Creating the channel would not only require part of the park to be removed, but would also involve building two bridges to allow Eliot and Colorado streets to cross over the channel.

Funding for the project could also prove to be an obstacle. The city is hoping that the Harbor Commission will approve much of the funding to come form the Port of Long Beach.

The port uses credits purchased through projects like the Colorado Lagoon restoration to offset projects or expansions carried out at the port that take away open water space.

Lopez says there are about 20 mitigation credits available, meaning that the port would be purchasing them for over $1 million each. Port spokesperson Lee Peterson said that ultimately it will be a judgment call by the harbor commissioners.

He noted that while the cost per credit is high relative to previous projects the port has been involved in, both the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles contributed about $50 million to help restore the Bolsa Chica Wetlands in Huntington Beach.

Lopez said the Harbor Commission could take up the item sometime in the next few months, and if funding is approved it would move forward to the City Council for approval. Then, designs for the project would have to be finalized, utilities in the area would have to be relocated and the project would be put out to bid. Finally, shovels could hit the ground.

He’s optimistic that funding for the project will be approved.

A rendering of what the new open channel connecting the Colorado Lagoon and Alamitos Bay could look like in the future.

Funding aside, the project has faced opposition in the past from residents who sought to protect the park space and from losing any of it to the construction of an open channel.

Christine Whitcraft, a wetlands expert at Cal State Long Beach and current president of Friends of Colorado Lagoon, said that the project serves both groups’ interests.

“We view this as a win-win because not only is this creating an environmental space for people to swim in the lagoon, but it also involves a significant redesign of the Marina Vista park itself which we feel has the ability to alleviate some problems in the park,” Whitcraft said. “There’s currently some spaces that don’t grow grass and some spaces that are too low or hummocked [hilly] to support the types of activities that go on there.”

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Whitcraft said the channel will allow for species like the eel grass that was installed during the last round of improvements to the lagoon, and that supports marine life in the water, to thrive and stop the degradation that was caused by decades of uneven water flow through the culvert.

She added that the cost of the bank’s mitigation credits is not surprising. Whitcraft said that other projects throughout the state have hovered around the $1 million per credit mark, and due to more agencies becoming more involved the cost of the credits have gone up. In her opinion, they could continue to go up.

The project has firm support from city leaders including Councilwoman Suzie Price, who represents southeast Long Beach where the lagoon and park are located.

Price said that recent community meetings have shown strong support for the project, despite concern about removing a portion of the park.

She added that completing the restoration of the Colorado Lagoon was the main reason she sought reelection, to ensure that a focal point of her platform during her 2012 campaign was fulfilled.

But before Price and the rest of the City Council can weigh in on the project, its fate lies with the Harbor Commission.

“It’s not that it’s that tough of a sell, it’s the price per mitigation credit,” Price said. “That’s going to be the issue. Are they getting a good value? We’ve been working very hard with them to try and make it a reasonable price per credit.”

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.