Costa Mesa Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger announced Friday that he plans to meet with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents and tell them what he knows about decomposed granite trails that damaged sensitive habitat when they mysteriously appeared in Fairview Park.
"I have asked the city attorney's office to contact U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to arrange for me to talk to its agents about what I know about this incident," Mensinger said in a statement released Friday.
This summer, two trails within the 208-acre park were topped with decomposed granite without city permission. The pathways run along the park's southeastern edge adjacent to Jim Scott Stadium and Parsons Field.
The two trails meet on the corner of what's known as a vernal pool — a temporary wetland that hosts the San Diego fairy shrimp, an endangered species.
"I appreciate the work that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does in protecting our natural resources, and I also have a profound respect for the integrity of its investigative process," Mensinger said in his statement.
When reached by phone Friday afternoon, Mensinger declined to comment further.
Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent Ed Newcomer, based in the federal agency's law enforcement office in Torrance, previously would neither confirm nor deny that it is investigating the matter. Newcomer did not immediately return a call for comment Friday afternoon.
No one has taken responsibility for placing the granite. Mensinger and city officials have said the work may have been done by volunteers unaware of the area's delicate environment, but they have not offered more specific information.
The city provided the Daily Pilot with a statement last week regarding the incident after the newspaper requested more information about how the path came into being.
"For many years, some vernal pools and the sensitive areas around them had not been adequately defined," the statement said. "By not delineating those protected areas, the city, user groups and volunteers have from time to time walked on, parked on and generally encroached on the habitat."
Although the decomposed granite was never approved, the city had signed off on the creation of one of the trails, a north-south pathway, some six years ago. The other trail, which travels east-west, was apparently created by visitors to the area, including schoolchildren.
Emails obtained by the Daily Pilot last year showed that Mensinger asked city crews to mow the weeds and grass at the east-west trail. This request came before the granite was placed, and there is no mention of the granite trail in the correspondence.
"A lack of awareness of the location of these vernal pools resulted in a diminished sense of importance of protecting the areas," the city's statement continued. "The city takes responsibility for not properly delineating and educating the many nonprofit programs that for decades have helped to maintain these areas withing Fairview Park."
In November, in an "emergency action," Fish and Wildlife ordered the city to remove the granite from both pathways, saying the material or chemicals in it could enter the vernal pools and prevent the fairy shrimp from hatching.
Earlier this month, Costa Mesa finished removing the material, which amounted to 56 cubic yards worth of the sediment. Workers also removed the logs that had been used to delineate the north-south trail. Since September, the entire area has been roped off.
The city has spent about $19,000 on the trails so far.
According to the city's statement, officials are waiting for final and formal instructions from Fish and Wildlife about what else needs may be needed to repair any damage and protect the vernal pools.
"The city has a contractor ready to begin work once direction is given," according to the statement.
— Daily Pilot staff writer Bradley Zint also contributed to this report.