Progress for people, birds and fish

Union-Tribune Editorial Board
Even with the first drop of desalinated water still to be produced, the scheduled Poseidon Corp. plant in Carlsbad is producing benefits for the region by meeting mitigation and carbon-footprint offset requirements.

A mitigation milestone may come Wednesday when the California Coastal Commission meets in the Chula Vista City Council chambers. Commission staff, supported by a long list of regulatory and environmental groups, recommends approval of Poseidon’s preliminary plan to convert 66 acres of commercial salt ponds in south San Diego Bay into wildlife refuge.

Restoration of the wetlands to their natural state would be a wondrous development for the wildlife and fish near the tip of San Diego Bay and for the people of South County, especially with the South Bay Power Plant coming down.

The Otay River floodplain site is 40 miles from Agua Hedionda Lagoon, the desalination plant’s future location. Some in North County may ask why not restore a lagoon closer to home. Put Esther Sanchez in that camp. She’s an Oceanside City Council member and Buena Vista Lagoon is certainly near and dear to her. As a member of the Coastal Commission, however, Sanchez surely understands that her own commission has set parameters on the required mitigation. It must be for a minimum of 66.4 acres covering no more than two sites, be able to be finished in a time certain and so on.

Lump six North County lagoons together and only 51 acres of the required type of mitigation could be accomplished. Read the requirements carefully and three – Buena Vista, San Elijo and Agua Hedionda – do not qualify. Just one site in the entire region, the Otay River floodplain, meets all criterion.

But North County will have other chances. Recent improvements in San Dieguito Lagoon near the Del Mar Fairgrounds were mitigation for the San Onofre Nuclear Plant. Interstate 5 widening will carry heavy mitigation requirements.

The Poseidon plant already has been approved – in November 2007, actually. An endless series of harassment lawsuits no longer has the ability to stall. Poseidon is finalizing a water supply and tax payment agreement with the Carlsbad Municipal Water District and plans to seek financing soon. This should be the year of actual construction. Delaying approval of the mitigation plan would only delay wetlands restoration itself.

California has precious few wetlands left, offering migratory and permanent homes to thousands of species of birds, fish and mammals. This is an opportunity to reclaim at private expense 66 of those lost acres, at a site next to an existing wildlife refuge. What could be more compatible with the Coastal Commission’s central mission of protecting our coastline?

This should be an easy vote for commissioners. Approve the mitigation now.