By Kristina Houck
Having just released its draft environmental impact report outlining options for the restoration of San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve, the San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy is inviting the public to provide input on the reserve-wide project during two community meetings in August.
“A lot of times public meetings like this are agency-driven and mandated. They seem to be dog-and-pony shows,” said Doug Gibson, executive director of the conservancy, which will administer the lagoon restoration. “But we’re a community-based organization, and this is a community-based restoration effort. We want the public to comment on this.”
During the 60-day public review period of the document, which was prepared by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and San Diego County Department of Parks and Recreation, the conservancy will host community meetings on Aug. 19 in Solana Beach and Aug. 27 in Encinitas.
At the meetings, Gibson will give a 30- to 40-minute presentation. Attendees will also have the opportunity to visit information booths, ask questions and submit comments.
“Our goal is to get as much information out to the public as possible, so that they’re comfortable enough to write their comments and add to the project through the process,” said Gibson, who first joined the conservancy in 1996.
Founded in 1987, and based in Solana Beach, the conservancy is a nonprofit land trust and the premier stewardship organization for the San Elijo Lagoon.
Owned and managed by California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the county’s parks and recreation department, and the conservancy, the 979-acre reserve is located between Encinitas and Solana Beach, extending inland to Rancho Santa Fe.
After 18 years of research and planning, Gibson said it is time for large-scale restoration of the lagoon, which hosts more than 700 species of plants and animals, many rare and endangered.
“When you’re looking at the reserve now, and you sort of go and look out from the trail, you may not notice what the problems are because it looks pretty healthy,” he said. “We have to try to break that stigma. It is beautiful, but it has problems.”
The lagoon needs restoration because of sedimentation and water pollution from historical and current infrastructure, such as Interstate 5. A restored wetland would re-establish the lagoon’s natural water filtration, return fish nurseries, provide mudflat habitat for migrating birds, and create cleaner beaches, Gibson said.
In May, the conservancy launched an online survey to ask community members whether they would be likely to participate in the planned summer meetings and what topics should be addressed.
Gibson said it’s important for the public to be involved in all steps of the process. The conservancy will look over and respond to the public’s comments, possibly incorporating some of the suggestions in the final version of the environmental impact report, which should be released in spring 2015, Gibson said.
“If they’ve thought of something that we haven’t, let’s make it better,” he said. “They can make a difference.”
The first community meeting will run from 6-7:30 p.m. Aug. 19 at La Colonia Community Center, 715 Valley Ave. in Solana Beach. The second meeting will take place from 6-7:30 p.m. Aug. 27 at Encinitas Community Center, 1140 Oakcrest Park Drive.
For information about the San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy, or to read the draft EIR, visit www.sanelijo.org. The document is also available at the San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center, Cardiff-by-the-Sea Library, Solana Beach Library and the county parks and recreation department.