Commission says Poseidon site has wetlands

The proposed site of Poseidon Resources' desalination plant in Huntington Beach may contain wetlands, according to a letter from the California Coastal Commission.

In a May 10 letter to Poseidon Vice President Scott Maloni, the commission disputed the company and city's claim that the beachside property occupied by the AES Power Plant does not contain wetlands. The letter recommends that Poseidon schedule a site visit with a commission staff ecologist to further evaluate the property.

If the site is found to contain wetlands, the commission may ask Poseidon to create an alternate layout for the plant, said Tom Luster, an environmental scientist for the commission.

"What we've asked Poseidon to do is schedule another site visit so we can take a look and figure out if there are wetlands and what wetlands habitat and values may be present, and figure out what to do from there," Luster said.

Maloni stood by the city's subsequent environmental impact report from last year, which argues that all wetlands on the property were legally converted to uplands when they were drained and filled in the early 1960s.

The company, Maloni said, does not have a site visit scheduled at the time.

Luster said that based on an inspection by the commission a couple of years ago, as well as documents included in a draft of the city's SEIR, the power plant area appears to contain wetlands. However, a 2009 report by the regulatory firm Glenn Lukos Associates, which the city included in its draft SEIR, argues that while the area contains plants indicative of wetlands, the area itself does not function as such.

Maloni and Gordon Smith, the chairman of the nonprofit Huntington Beach Wetlands Conservancy, said there is one degraded wetland close to the AES property, near the decommissioned oil tanks east of the plant and near the flood control channel.

Maloni said the wetlands are outside the Poseidon plant area and that the company plans to restore and maintain it if the project is approved. Smith, whose group has acquired and restored wetlands in the area south of the AES plant since the 1980s, said he would approve of the arrangement.

"I wouldn't see it as any kind of an obstacle for Poseidon, because they can work with us," he said.

Poseidon has applied to the commission for a coastal development permit, which it needs to begin construction. Luster said if the company does not agree to a site visit, the commission may vote on the application regardless.

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