A spokeswoman for the Department of Fish and Game said her group will likely amend a restoration plan for the Bolsa Chica mesa after a state commission's staff criticized the project.
Karen Miner, a DFG land program supervisor, said her group plans to enter discussions soon with the California Coastal Commission's staff to address some of its concerns about CPR, or Community Promoted Restoration, for the Mesa.
If DFG makes any changes, Miner said, they will likely be reductions or minor revisions, but probably won't add anything.
"If we remove components or reduce them or add mitigation measures, those aren't new impacts," Miner said. "If we have a whole new redesign, it would be a new project. We're trying to do it in the first scenario, where we add new information, we add mitigation measures."
The Coastal Commission staff issued a harsh response to the plan for the lower bench of the Bolsa Chica mesa, calling it potentially harmful to the environment and insufficiently outlined in public documents.
The staff submitted its response March 16 to DFG, which is collaborating with the Bolsa Chica Land Trust on the restoration plan. The public comment period for CPR for the Mesa ended March 17.
The six-page response, signed by regulation and planning supervisor Karl Schwing and prepared with biological technical staff, concludes that the project as proposed will have "significant negative environmental effects" and that the documents provided by the Land Trust and DFG leave too many questions unanswered.
The commission must approve CPR for the Mesa before the project can proceed.
John Dixon, a member of the commission's biological technical staff, said he admired the intentions but couldn't support the project as outlined.
"I think restoration is certainly appropriate, but whatever restoration takes place has to be done in such a way that it doesn't have serious negative impacts on the resources that are already there," he said. "The existing plan, as we said in our letter, seems to us that it could have such negative impacts."
Land Trust Executive Director Flossie Horgan said her group was not discouraged by the staff's remarks and that the Land Trust and DFG were busy preparing a response.
"The comments from the Coastal Commission staff are accepted as constructive and are appreciated," she said.
The staff specifically addressed the project's mitigated negative declaration, a report on the restoration plan's perceived environmental effects. Among the staff's complaints are that the Land Trust and DFG did not provide enough documents for public comment and that the documents lack support from scientific literature or professional restoration ecologists.
The staff also took issue with specific aspects of the plan, saying it will damage native plants' habitat by moistening the soil, introduce plant species not suited to the environment and make it harder for raptors to forage in the area, among other things.
However, Kim Kolpin, the director of the Bolsa Chica Stewards, the Land Trust's restoration team, said she believed the criticism stemmed from a lack of understanding of the plan. The applicants hope to clear up any confusion as they continue to work with the commission, she said.
"Our interactions with the Coastal Commission have been, for the most part, positive," Kolpin said. "We just have to make sure they have all the information they need."
Miner, Horgan and Kolpin declined to respond to specific points in the staff's letter.
In addition to seeking a permit from the commission, DFG must also submit a statement to the State Clearinghouse declaring that the project meets the guidelines of the California Environmental Quality Act. Miner said DFG and the commission staff plan to work together to make sure CPR for the Mesa follows the laws.
Dixon said he did not know when the plan would come before the 12-member commission for a vote. He noted, though, that the commission sometimes differs with the staff.
"The commission certainly respects the recommendations that come from the staff, but they're charged to come up with an independent decision," Dixon said.