Harbor Commissioners approve $26 million for Colorado Lagoon open channel project

The Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners voted unanimously Monday night to approve $26.3 million in funding to connect Colorado Lagoon to Marine Stadium through an open water channel.

In return, the Port of Long Beach will receive mitigation credits to offset future projects that might take away from the marine environment. In total, the port is set to receive about 19.7 credits for the project that is tentatively scheduled to be completed by 2022.

If the project moves forward, with approval from the Long Beach City Council, it would connect the two bodies of water by carving out a channel through the westernmost portion of Marina Vista Park. It would also involve creating two commuter bridges on the streets (Elliot and Colorado streets) that would cross over the channel.

Parts of the park that are currently uneven will be flattened to compensate for the recreation areas lost to the channel.

Some commissioners recalled their days as city council members taking votes on the lagoon’s restoration stating that this project has been in the makings for a long time. Restoration plans for the lagoon began in 2001 but the open channel project, which would connect the lagoon to open water and further improve its water quality could stand as a final step in what would be an over-20-year process after its completion.

“I think this is a project that needs to be finished and I don’t consider it finished right now,” said Commissioner Lou Anne Bynum, who spoke of her family’s trips to the lagoon when she was a child before voting in favor of approving the funding. “It’s a treasure for us and it’s a precious asset we have in our community.”

Christine Whitcraft, president of Friends of Colorado Lagoon and a wetlands expert at Cal State Long Beach, said that a recent survey showed about 85 percent of visitors to the lagoon were from outside the city and that the channel could draw in even more visitors to the area as it would create an attraction that is uncommon in the state.

“It’s a resource for the community because it’s so rare,” Whitcraft said. “There aren’t many other saltwater wetlands in the L.A.  region where you can experience what you can at the Colorado Lagoon.”

The proposed project would connect the two bodies of water by creating a channel between Colorado Lagoon and Marine Stadium.

While the port would pay the $26.3 million needed to complete the project, Long Beach Public Works would be responsible for implementing the plan and for maintaining it. The port would not receive its mitigation credits until the the project proved viable for five years.

The city would be liable for any cost overruns and could pursue grant funding to potentially lower the cost of the mitigation credit purchases by the port. If the actual credits granted to the port after the completion of the project is lower than the 19.7 currently projected the purchase price could also be lowered.

Eric Lopez, a Tidelands capital improvement project officer with the city, said that the work to get Colorado Lagoon from one of the worst water bodies in the state of California to one that now receives A grades from Heal the Bay has been hard work, but the channel would make it easier and eliminate the need for alternative ways of keeping the water quality high.

“Few people know that every night there are about 100,000 gallons of dirty water that gets pumped into the sewer system every night,” Lopez said, describing the the six-hour process that starts around midnight every night. “It’s one of the ways that we’ve been able to keep the water quality clean.”

Prior to 2012, Colorado Lagoon had consistently been ranked as a “Beach Bummer” on Heal the Bay’s annual beach scorecard report but has in recent years the water quality had improved. This year it was highlighted in the report for its improvements including an “A” grade during the Summer dry months. Earlier in its history before cleanup attempts were enacted it had even been referred to as “Polio Pond”.

The city has since dedicated about $19 million in city, state and federal funds to cleaning up the lagoon through stormwater capture improvements, dredging, pumping out dirty water and rehabilitating the surrounding habitats.

Connecting the lagoon to Marine Stadium is expected to be put before the City Council for a vote before construction begins. If approved the project could be completed as soon as 2022.

“The Board is pleased to partner with the City to revitalize an environmental asset that serves all of Long Beach as a place to rest, play and gather,” said Tracy Egoscue, President of the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners. “Restoring and improving the Colorado Lagoon will allow marine and coastal wildlife to thrive, while also offering recreational opportunities for our community.”

Editors note: This story has been updated to include comment from Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners President Tracy Egoscue.  

A previous version of this story also said the lagoon had made Heal the Bay’s honor roll list, it was highlighted for its dramatic improvements in water quality. 

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.
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