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Ban on Work at Playa Vista Wetlands Site Affirmed

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A federal judge left intact Monday his recent order halting work on 16.1 acres of wetlands on the sprawling Playa Vista project until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conducts a thorough review of environmental hazards.

Judge Ronald S.W. Lew rebuffed bids by both sides in the long-running legal dispute over development of the 1,087-acre site near Marina del Rey.

Environmentalists who oppose the project had hoped that Lew would declare that his previous ruling was meant to halt construction work throughout the site. He refused to do so.

The project’s developers, Maguire Thomas Partners and Playa Capitol Co., wanted him to stay his original order pending an appeal to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. He declined to do that as well.

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Lew explained that his jurisdiction in the case was limited and that he would not issue a ruling making public policy.

In an opinion last month, Lew chastised the Corps--which has jurisdiction over environmentally sensitive wetlands--for relying on piecemeal environmental studies to grant the developers a permit to dredge and fill pockets of wetland areas.

The judge rescinded the permit and ordered the Corps of Engineers to conduct a more rigorous study that will consider the impact of the entire project on the wetlands.

Playa Vista’s developers hope to construct as many as 13,000 townhouses and apartments, and up to 5 million square feet of commercial space, possibly including the Dreamworks SKG Studio.

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Charles Stevens Crandall, an attorney for three environmental groups, expressed concern that while the Corps conducts a new environmental impact study, the developers could proceed with construction in areas surrounding the wetlands sites.

The effect could be irreversible, said Crandall, who represents the Wetlands Action Network, the Ballona Wetlands Land Trust and the California Public Interest Research Group.

The new environmental impact study is expected to take about two years.

In requesting the judge to stay his original order pending an appeal, the developers’ lawyer, Robert D. Crockett, said his clients would be in peril of violating state law unless they could complete some grading work in the wetlands areas that have been declared off limits.

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