Environmentalists Protest Work at Playa Vista

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About 30 people, including two boaters, demonstrated Wednesday against bulldozing on wetlands on the site of the proposed massive Playa Vista development.

The protesters are upset that the work began before they could appeal a federal court decision that allows the filling of 16 acres of wetlands at various spots in the more than 1,000-acre Westside project and the creation of what developers say will be a freshwater marsh.

Overturning a lower court decision that had halted the work for two years, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit unanimously ruled in August that the federal permit did not violate environmental law. Earlier this week, the injunction against that work was formally lifted. Environmentalists say they plan to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Demonstrator Tom Francis, a member of the board of the Ballona Wetlands Land Trust, said the work should have been delayed. "What's the rush? The hurry is destroying the habitat before we can protect it. They are trying to moot the case by destroying the habitat before we get to the Supreme Court and the legal system can take its course."

However, project spokesman Neal Sacharow said no wildlife was being harmed. He said work crews placed a 50-foot buffer zone around three nesting birds found in the area west of Lincoln Boulevard.

Sacharow also said the current work is to construct a freshwater marsh that would act as a buffer between storm water runoff and the Ballona Wetlands.

However, protesters contended that the marsh would become a storm water basin and contaminate the wetlands.

The controversial project would include residences, offices and stores and about 300 acres of restored wetlands and other natural habitat in the area south of Marina del Rey. It faces other regulatory obstacles.

On Wednesday, a protester chained herself to a construction fence west of Lincoln Boulevard. And two people in a boat hooked up to a pole in a marsh on the eastern portion of the property for three hours. No one was arrested.

Environmentalists also contend that some work is being done in areas east of Lincoln that should be off limits, a charge developers deny. Sacharow said erosion control work there has proper permits.

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