Major Council Hearing/Decision Coming Tues. BREAKING: Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust announces (Jan. 15) that it supports the proposed land exchange and mitigation bank
BREAKING: Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust announces (Jan. 15) that it supports the proposed land exchange and mitigation bank
|(Jan. 15, 2018, BREAKING UPDATE 10:15 a.m.) -- On Tuesday Jan. 16, the LB City Council will consider appeals, take public testimony pro and con and decide whether to approve a proposal that supporters say offers an unprecedented opportunity to restore and allow public enjoyment of 154 acres of the SE LB Los Cerritos wetlands. degraded for decades by an eyesore surface oil field, a proposal that opponents say would perpetuate oil-related risks, potential seismic issues and invite other negative impacts.
The Council will decide whether to approve a City Hall-proffered Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and let Beach Oil Minerals Partners (BOMP), an entity that includes Synergy Oil which operates the large/former Bixby oil field north of 2nd St. between PCH and Studebaker Rd., remove its oil rigs and piping from the surface of the site and continue oil drilling using underground slant-drilled wells (120 at full build out) from two nearby off-sites (Pumpkin Patch on PCH and NE corner of Studebaker/2nd St.) flanking the east and west sides of the Newport-Inglewood fault that bisects the oil field/wetlands.
BOMP proposes to fund the wetlands restoration without tapping taxpayer funds by establishing a "mitigation bank," a financing technique that generates a revenue stream by selling "credits" to operators of polluting projects elsewhere offset their projects' impacts by paying to fund environmentally beneficial projects, in this case, the wetlands restoration.
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A November 30, 2017 Planning Commission hearing produced sharply differing public testimony, with some prominent wetlands and wildlife groups conspicuously non-committal.
Project opponents Ann Cantrell (veteran LB environmental advocate, representing Citizens About Responsible Planning) and Anna Christensen/Charles Moore (the former a frequent advocate for native Americans, the latter an oceanographer/clean ocean advocate, now jointly representing Protect the Long Beach/Los Cerritos Wetlands) have appealed the non-elected Planning Commission's recommended project approval (7-0) to the elected City Council.
BREAKING UPDATE: The Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust, a non-profit entity that has worked for decades to protect and restore the wetlands, hadn't taken a public position in the project...until this morning (Monday Jan. 15), when it issued a statement indicating that it now supports the proposed land exchange and mitigation bank. In a mass emailing, LCWLT Executive Director Elizabeth Lambe writes:
We admit it. It took us awhile. But after a great deal of research, discussion and with some additional protections put into place, the Board of Directors of the Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust has voted to support the mitigation bank and land swap proposed by Beach Oil Mineral Partners (BOM). We know the project has been the subject of great controversy and of strong opinion both for and against. We were, frankly, torn, in that we supported the idea of restoring Los Cerritos Wetlands but concerned it be done right, not take too long, and have the right balance of wetlands access and protection.
In November, a comment letter submitted in the EIR proceeding by LCWLT's attorney voiced concerns about the lengthy timeline for the wetlands restoration. In response, the City's draft EIR stated in pertinent part that the northerly portion of the site would be remediated, if necessary, and restored to a natural wetland area by year four once the project is implemented while oil operations on the site would continue on the southern portion of the site "for a fixed period of time of up to 40 years" and "would be phased out as new operations are established from the two slant drilling sites [Pumpkin Patch and LCWA parcel, NE corner Studebaker/2nd]. It added: "At this time, it is unknown at one point restoration of the southern portion would occur...However, ongoing communication with the applicant, City, LCWA, and interested parties would continue as a part of the overall restoration" of the wetlands and "the applicant, City, LCWA, and interested parties [p. 9-231]will continue to work collaboratively with LCWLT on accelerating the process."
In response to appellant Cantrell on the issue, the draft EIR states: "The project will reduce the number of operation oil wells by 50% within 20 years of the "New Occupancy Date" as that term is defined in the City's EIR, and by 100% within 40 years from the New Occupancy Date. The project proposes to drill 120 new wells which consist of a mix of oil wells, water injection wells and water source wells."
At the November 2017 Planning Commission meeting, Belmont Shore taxpayer Melinda Cotton said the prospect of restoring the wetlands was very exciting, but said the City should take steps to protect itself if the price of oil declines over the next 40+ years and might prevent the new entity from complete its restoration work as promised, leaving the City with the problem.
Supporters call the project a game-changer, a once in a lifetime chance that shouldn't be missed. In a Planning Commission colloquy, Assistant City Attorney Mike Mais indicated that if the proposed project isn't approved, Synergy Oil remains free to continue its present surface oil drilling operations without wetlands restoration.
In its responses to EIR comments, the draft EIR's "Statement of Overriding Considerations" (listing grounds to approve the EIR despite some air quality impacts during construction) also states: "The City will receive an increase in tax dollars from the new oil production activities. Long Beach imposes a tax on oil production which is currently estimated at 40 cents/barrel of oil produced. As a result of this project, the incremental increase in annual tax proceeds from new oil production could, at maximum operating capacity, provide approximately $4 million in tax revenues to the City."
At the November 2017 Planning Commission hearing, a number of speakers in opposition raised the risk of pipeline breaks and possible oil spills, noting that the site is (literally) atop the Newport-Inglewood fault. The company and project supporters responded that the site has been an oil field for decades and if the project isn't approved, the current risk of pipeline breaks and oil spills will remain, and added that the restoration project will use newer equipment and pipelines applying more stringent codes than the current wells and pipes.
A number of public speakers in opposition also raised seismic issues, including the possibility of inducing seismic activity by the oil operations. The project applicant has stressed that it doesn't plan to conduct "fracking" (hydraulic fracturing of underground rocks to free up oil) on the site, but has acknowledged that it plans to separate water extracted as part of the oil drilling process, treat it and re-inject it back into the ground to prevent ground subsidence.
The Newport-Inglewood fault bisects the site and the oil operator proposes to use slant-drilling sites from two sites (east and west of the fault line) to avoid drilling directly across the fault. (One slant drill site would be from the NE corner of Studebaker/2nd St. site is east of the fault line; the other from the Pumpkin Patch site southward along PCH is on the west side of the fault line.)
The draft EIR's written materials (which the Planning Commission recommended that the Council certify) says the following about the risk of induced seismicity.
[Heading] Induced Fault Rupture, Seismic Event, and/or Seismic-Related Ground Failure [end heading]
Speakers in support at the Planning Commission hearing included Mark Stanley, Executive Officer of the Los Cerritos Wetlands Authority (a government body charged with providing "a comprehensive program of acquisition, protection, conservation, restoration, maintenance and operation and environmental enhancement of the Los Cerritos Wetlands" whose four member governing board includes LB Councilmembers Suzie Price and Roberto Uranga.) He was joined by Eric Zahn, project manager for LCWA, who said the prospect of restoring 154 acres of wetlands was previously nearly unimaginable, and can only be accomplished now by consolidating oil drilling off-site (as BOMP proposes to do.). Also testifying in support at the Planning Commission were area residents Lucy Johnson and Bill Thomas, along with Jeremy Harris, Exec. Dir. of the LB Area Chamber of Commerce.
The largest single opposition group at the Planning Commission consisted of speakers identifying themselves as Native Americans / indigenous peoples or their supporters, who said the site had previously been inhabited by LB's historic Tongva Tribe. Some said it had been a tribal burial ground; others mentioned the "Standing Rock" (South Dakota) oil pipeline (that ignited months of demonstrations/occupations on that site in 2016 (which ended only after President Trump took office and authorized the Obama-administration delayed project to proceed.) One noted that the City Council and Mayor Garcia recently sought credit for recognizing "Indigenous Peoples Day" (instead of Columbus Day.)
At the November Planning Commission hearing, Mary Parsell of El Dorado Audubon said the group is excited at the prospect of restoring a fully functioning wetlands, said it has concerns about some aspects of the project, but said the group has confidence the project will be a great success "once it clears all the requisite regulatory hurdles" (and reiterated and stressed the phrase), including regulatory approvals that will be required from the Coastal Commission, CA Fish and Wildlife and other regulatory agencies.
On the weekend of October 20-22, BOMP offered the public walking tours of the usually-inaccessible oil field that it offers to restore to 154 acres of natural wetlands. LBREPORT.com went on the walking tour on Sunday morning Oct. 22 and provides extended VIDEO and photo coverage below of what we saw and heard.
LBREPORT.com will provide LIVE streaming video of the Jan. 16 LB City Council meeting (scheduled start time 5:00 p.m.) at which the Los Cerritos Wetlands Oil Consolidation and Restoration hearing is the first substantive item on the Council agenda.
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