The Los Cerritos Wetlands Authority recently delayed a vote on whether to certify a final environmental study on a conceptual plan to restore those wetlands until next month, citing technical issues.

That report, available to read at intoloscerritoswetlands.org, details what might happen to components of the surrounding Los Cerritos environment should a restoration program take place. Those components range from disturbance of cultural artifacts or human remains to habitat of endangered species.

The study, known as an Environmental Impact Report, breaks down aspects of the conceptual restoration program into three areas: those with little or no impact, those where the impact that can be mitigated and those where the negative impacts that cannot be fully mitigated.

But the “Statement of Overriding Considerations” — which, generally, makes the case for why a project is more important than the negative affects it would have — is what usually causes debate.

The goal in this case is the restoration of the wetlands.

The wetlands, on the border of Long Beach and Seal Beach, have long been degraded by human-caused environmental factors, including oil drilling. But plans are in the works to restore the area, under the direction of the Los Cerritos Wetlands Authority, which governs the public lands and has representatives from Long Beach, Seal Beach, the state Coastal Commission, and the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers and Mountains Conservancy. The authority governs 171 acres of the wetlands and has an agreement with Beach Oil Minerals (Synergy Oil) to take over another 154 acres once those wetlands have been restored.

This EIR speaks primarily in generalities because it covers the entire 503 acres of wetlands expected to be restored. The work would take place in phases, with each phase covering a specific area with its own impacts and mitigation measures. And each phase would require its own environmental study.

“This provides a framework,” said Mark Stanley, executive director of the Los Cerritos Wetlands Authority. “Each project requires its own EIR, the entire process. So the public will continue to have a chance to comment on the issues.”

Even so, there are some specific measures required in this EIR, which covers the overall restoration plan. Two birds, the Belding’s Savannah Sparrow and the burrowing owl, get special treatment, for example, with special surveys required if it is suspected or found that those birds live in an area that severely limits when and how work can be done.

The most significant impact in the program EIR, though, is to cultural resources.

“There are 23 potential historical resources within or immediately adjacent to the proposed program area,” the study said, “including 15 archaeological resources (11 prehistoric sites, 3 historic-period sites, and 1 multicomponent site) and 8 historic architectural resources.”

The entire Los Cerritos Wetlands, meanwhile, is also considered to be part of a “tribal cultural landscape,” the report said.

Because of that, the 78-page report dedicates 13 pages to mitigation measures, including requiring a separate historic resources assessment for every project, onsite monitoring by a qualified architectural historian and studies by archaeologists for presence of artifacts underground. Requirements would multiply exponentially if human remains are found.

Once the overall EIR gets certified, the Long Beach City Council will review the study and conceptual plan, weighing whether to certify and approve them.

“One of the overarching goals of the city, and one I fully support, is to facilitate the complete cleanup and restoration of all of our wetland areas particularly the Los Cerritos Wetlands area,” City Councilwoman Suzie Price, whose Third District includes the wetlands and who sits on the authority, said in a statement.

“I am very much supportive of the concept of this project,” she added while declining to discuss specifics, “and feel that it is one that is long overdue.”

The Los Cerritos Wetlands Authority is tentatively set to vote on certifying the EIR on Dec. 3, Stanley said. The authority will allow comments from the public on whether the panel should certify the study, but not on the specifics. Information: intoloscerritoswetlands.org.

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By Kelley Wheeler

Kelley Wheeler is a Metro reporter covering political issues and general assignments. A second-generation journalist, worked with all major news outlet, she holds a vast expeirience. Kelley is a graduate of USC with degrees in journalism and English literature. She is a recipient of Yale’s Poynter Fellowship in Journalism.

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