It's official: There is no more illegally placed decomposed granite in Fairview Park.
Hired crews from an environmental consulting firm recently finished the dusty job of fully removing the dirt-like material from two trails in the Costa Mesa park's southeastern quadrant. The work was performed under the close supervision of a biologist because the matter caught the attention of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).
A city study confirmed that the two trails encroached on a tiny corner of a vernal pool — a type of temporary wetland — and hurt the habitat of the tiny San Diego fairy shrimp, an endangered species.
The trails were topped with the granite sometime last summer, unbeknownst to City Hall staff members and much to the anger of environmentalists. No one has come forward to take responsibility for placing granite on the trails.
One of the trails, about 120 feet long and next to the fence separating the park from Jim Scott Stadium, was approved by the city years ago. It runs north and south and was probably widened at the same time it was being topped with granite. It had wooden logs running alongside. Those were also removed.
The second is about 400 feet long. That trail runs east and west along the fence between Parsons Field and the park and was considered a "user-defined" — created through repeated use over time — before becoming well-defined, if still unpermitted, by the granite.
About 56 cubic yards of granite was removed from the two trails, said Ernesto Munoz, Costa Mesa's public services director.
The trails now expose the natural land grade, he said.
Huntington Beach-based Endemic Environmental Services was hired to do the job for about $14,000. The company began Dec. 13 and finished Jan. 2, conducting the removal work by hand and sometimes with a small tractor.
"We are happy to have completed the work prior to any rain event that may have added a degree of difficulty to the removal process," Munoz wrote in an email to the Daily Pilot.
The city study from September that confirmed the vernal pool locations and small amount of ecological damage caused by the trails cost about $4,800, bringing the total project costs to about $19,000 thus far.
Costa Mesa is now preparing a report to give to FWS that documents the removal. The federal agency could order additional mitigation actions, such as recreating some the vernal pool habitat elsewhere to make up for the loss.
That area of Fairview Park will continue to be roped off to deter pedestrian access and further damage. City officials first put up a temporary barrier in September to protect the area after concerns were raised. Before then, the trails were commonly used by children going to school and sports practice.
Is there an investigation?
An FWS official said this week that he could neither confirm nor deny that an investigation into who placed the granite on the trails was taking place.
In general, the agency does not comment to the media about ongoing investigations, said Ed Newcomer, who works in the federal agency's local law enforcement division in Torrance.
Munoz also said that he was not aware of the city or FWS conducting any active investigations.
Though not addressing the instance at Fairview, Newcomer said violations of the Endangered Species Act can carry tens of thousands of dollars in fines and include jail time.