Stop the devastation of Sepulveda Basin Wetlands

 Water Board Files Notice of Intent to Sue the Corps over Sepulveda Basin

 The ACOE is given sixty days to develop a restoration proposal and future notification procedures for actions taken in the waterways of the Sepulveda Basin South Wildlife Reserve.  Be sure to read the L.A. Times and Daily News November 1st for coverage of this filing.

L.A. Regional Water Board Files Notice of Intent to Sue U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

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ACOE Basin Restoration Proposal Open Meeting October 7th 1:00pm

Last week a few of us had the opportunity to drive through the SepulvedaBasin “South Wildlife Reserve” with Colonel Kimberly Colloton and staff.  I was encouraged by all that was said and presented to us. 

 We were given a Draft, Short Term, Vegetative Management Plan that only includes items which we had previously proposed and discussed with them (removal of large debris, tagging and/or removal of non-native trees, partial restoration of maintenance road, and selective herbicide use).  All of this is to be done in coordination with “interested stakeholders” and supervised by a Corps Biologist. 

 All of these items, plus the relocation/removal of homeless encampments, will be discussed with stakeholders at an open meeting on October 7, 2013 at 1:00PM (probably at the Army Recruiting Center at 6337 Balboa Blvd.) and again at 7:00PM at the Encino Neighborhood Council Parks Committee meeting (Balboa Sports Center, Club Room #1 at 17015 Burbank Blvd. in Encino). 

 Everyone who can provide appropriate cogent comments on these issues (or simply wants to observe) is encouraged to attend.  At this point there is no need for expressions of anger, frustration or despair.  I look forward to meeting you again, or for the first time. 

 If the meeting dates/times change, I will send another update.

Kris Ohlenkamp

 

Sepulveda Basin South Wildlife Area Community Restoration Proposal

Kris Ohlenkamp with assistance from the Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation (as directed by the City Council of Los Angeles)  has created a restoration plan for the South Wildlife Area of the Sepulveda Basin.  To date,  the restoration plan has been endorsed by the following local community organizations. 

The Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Areas Steering Committee

California Native Plant Society – Los Angeles Chapter

The Sierra Club – Angeles Chapter

Encino Neighborhood Council

San Fernando Valley Audubon Society

Los Angeles Audubon Society

California Audubon Society

The River Project

Friends of Los Angeles River (FOLAR)

others to follow.

 

 
 
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Sign up for email updates on the South Wildlife Area from Kris Ohlenkamp!

 
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The following is an email sent to the ACOE May 24th, 2013  regarding our negotiations.
 
Ms. Kaplan & Ms. Clifford & Ms. Axt:
 
 
There have now been 5 meetings between USACE staff and the community groups most concerned about the Corps actions in the former “South Wildlife Reserve”. During those meetings the Corps has consistently emphasized the problems and concerns with restoration of that area, has never presented us with any new ideas for moving forward, has never provided any written minutes, summaries or plans, and has not even committed to restoring the community funded decomposed granite walkways.  
 
We, on the other hand, have been consistently presenting ideas for restoration of the area and have been addressing the Corps expressed concerns in every proposal that we have put forth. Our restoration proposal (presented to the Corps and Bureau of Sanitation on February 6 and again in more detail on March 20) was our attempt to facilitate a win/win situation where the wildlife values could actually be improved, while addressing all of the Corps concerns for minimal cost, low maintenance requirements, increased visibility for security, improved flood risk management, additional vehicle access, etc. We felt that our proposal was received in good faith and would be given appropriate consideration. Instead, it was rejected in its entirety, at the April 23 meeting, without any further study, development, or serious consideration. The reasons provided were not valid, relevant, or supported by evidence, and related to only one alternative aspect of the plan – that we made clear was negotiable.
 
Therefore, we feel that the Corps has not been negotiating in good faith towards an agreement with the impacted community organizations.  For six months, Individually and collectively we have reached out to all levels of the chain of command of the Corps (in person, on the phone, in e-mails, letters, meetings, hallways, at multiple public forums, at the Reserve, and in executive offices) fully and faithfully representing both the wishes and the passions of our respective constituents. We have received absolutely no tangible results from our efforts.  Despite verbal assurances to the contrary, the Colonel’s public presentations and written statements have consistently affirmed his intentions and committment to completing the current egregious 3 phase 5 year plan. He has never acknowledged any problems with that plan, or the environmental devastation that resulted from actions taken under the pretense of that plan.
 
 
Unless we can be given some written assurance that Colonel Toy is willing to make significant changes to that plan, we respectfully suggest that the next meeting, scheduled for May 28, be postponed until after Colonel Colloton is in place. We suggest sometime during the week of June 17-21.
 
Kris Ohlenkamp
On behalf of SFVAS Sepulveda Basin Taskforce
 
Also, the attached 1985 Corps plan for the area – the only Wildlife Area in the Basin at the time.  This is the basis for our restoration proposal and was completed by the Corps in 1985.  No water source was obtained at that time.  Recycled water is available now.
 
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Here is a summary of the situation in the Sepulveda Basin South Wildlife Area as of April 23, 2013.

 
 
We have just concluded our 5th meeting with the USACE and they have now rejected all of our proposals for mitigating the damage they did to the 48 acre South Wildlife Reserve in the Sepulveda Basin. They are even refusing to go forward with removing the non-native vegetation – which was the stated purpose of their Vegetative Management Plan in the first place, and which they have been agreeing to do up to this point.
 
 
At our March 20 meeting we presented the Corps with a restoration proposal for the area. We extracted it directly from the 1981 Master Plan and several other Corps documents. It included restoration of the Pothole Pond (which they destroyed), construction of another pond with an island and a seasonal (<1 ft. deep) marsh. All of these features had been excavated in 1984, but water was never provided because a source was not procured. This proposal meets all of the Corps objectives for the Vegetative Management Plan (low maintenance, improved security, etc.). It also creates significant improvements in habitat quality and diversity. The Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation (BOS) was at that meeting and said that they can now provide recycled water to those features.
 
 
At this weeks meeting (April 23), Congressman Sherman’s office and BOS were not invited/represented and the Corps only had 4 lower level employees there to deliver the message that our proposal had been rejected. The reasons given were:
1. It will cost too much money (based upon a larger, more complex, very different proposal for a wetland construction project). Our proposal should cost less than what they had originally planned to spend on the first phase of their Vegetative Management Plan (VMP). Additionally, there is a strong possibility that our proposal could be developed at no cost by moving the stalled wetlands mitigation proposal for Chatsworth Reservoir to the Sepulveda Basin.
2. There is no quaranteed source of permanent water. They said that they are currently negotiating (not true) with BOS for renewal of the lease for the Tillman Reclamation Plant, and that if the lease is rejected and Tillman shut down, the source of water would be lost.
3. If they create wetlands, that would subject them to additional regulatory constraints upon their operations in the Basin. The entire area is already designated as a wetland, any potential regulatory changes could be negotiated beforehand, and it is difficult to imagine a scenario where their operations could possibly be impacted.
4. Placing any body of water behind the dam may threaten the integrity of the structure itself. This argument is too absurd to comment on.
 
 
So, it is obvious that they are not seriously considering anything we have to say. They reject our proposals based upon irrelevant cost comparisons, hypothetical future regulations, imaginary worst case scenarios, and an adamant refusal to spend any money examining the feasibility of our ideas. They say they don’t have the money to do any of this, and then their Senior Ecologist (Thomas Keeney) is publicly campaigning against the project by blaming the environmentalists for costing the Corps so much money already. The negotiations have come to a complete standstill.
 
What you can do is email, call, and/or write Colonel Mark Toy and/or Congressman Brad Sherman’s representative (Mathew Dababneh) and comment on any or all of the issues above. Be sure to point out that they are the ones responsible for this fiasco, not the environmentalists.
 
Colonel Toy: richard.m.toy at usace.army.mil (213) 452-3961 915 Wilshire Blvd. Suite 1101, Los Angeles, CA 90017
Congressman Sherman: matt.dababneh at mail.house.gov (818) 501-9200 5000 Van Nuys Blvd. Suite 420, Sherman Oaks, CA 91403
 
 
They need to know that we still care, and are still watching. It will make a difference !
 
Thanks,
 
Kris Ohlenkamp
Conservation Chair
San Fernando Valley Audubon Society

March 20th the City Council passed the Sepulveda Basin habitat destruction motion authored by Councilmember Jan Perry.

 

Click here to view the video clip, scroll down to Item 6. Thanks to Dave Weeshoff of the San Fernando Valley Audubon Society for speaking to the City Council on our collective behalf. And to Councilmember Koretz for his supportive comments. The WASC was referred to several times.
 
Here are the adopted recommendations:
 
ITEM NO. (6)
 
AD HOC RIVER COMMITTEE REPORT relative to the eradication and loss of habitats in the San Fernando Valley Sepulveda Basin.
 
Recommendations for Council action, as initiated by Motion (Perry – LaBonge):
 
1. INSTRUCT the Bureau of Sanitation and Planning Department, in coordination with the Chief Legislative Analyst (CLA), and in consultation with the City Attorney, the United States Corps of Engineers, the Audubon Society, Friends of the Los Angeles River, and any other pertinent entity, to prepare a report that explains the recent loss of 43 acres of bird, mammal, and reptile habitat in the San Fernando Valley’s Sepulveda Basin without preparation of an Environmental Impact Report.
 
2. INSTRUCT the Bureau of Sanitation and Planning Department to include in the report if any endangered species were compromised, and whether there will be any detrimental impacts to air quality, and if any improvements were paid for with public funds or charitable contributions, and information as to which departments, if any, are responsible for overseeing projects that the Federal government is involved within City boundaries.
 
3. REQUEST the Commander of the Los Angeles District of the Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps), to present to the City Council their Vegetation Management Plan as well as a summary of additional community input they receive from follow-up meetings, and the results of the investigation of the loss of the 43 acres habitat.
 
4. REQUEST the Army Corps to work with the Bureau of Sanitation to come up with a collaborative agreement that meets the Army Corps’ needs, the community’s concerns, and addresses the Regional Water Quality Board’s requests.
 
 
5. DIRECT the Bureau of Sanitation to act as the City lead, to provide support so that all interested parties can create a next phase mitigation plan that will be well received.
 
6. REQUEST the Army Corps and the Bureau of Sanitation to come back with a plan within four to five months and provide a status report on the coordinated effort.

Sepulveda Basin status update 3-3-2013

 
When we started this action against the Corps 9 weeks ago we had 3 goals. The first goal was to convince them that there were significant problems with their Vegetation Management Plan (VMP). That has been accomplished.
 
The second goal was to obtain a halt to all physical activities related to this VMP. That has been accomplished.
 
The third was to move forward with the Corps, the regulatory agencies, and the legislative bodies, to attain recompense and satisfaction with our initial 7 recommendations. We have made significant progress on 2 of those: 1) developing a plan to restore the project area, and 2) making improvements in the Corps communication and public outreach functions.
 
All of our recommendations are now being considered and discussed by the the Regional Water Quality Control Board (WQCB) and the Bureau of Sanitation (BOS) and will eventually come before the City Council for review. We anticipate that the BOS will be holding open meetings soon, to receive input from the public about what we want to see happen next.
 
Hopefully, these discussions will not only consider revegetation alternatives, but will also suggest mitigation and compensation for the damage done. We would also like to initiate a supplement to the current Master Plan for the Basin to correct errors and clarify land uses/management plans.
 
Meanwhile, our discussions directly with the Corps will continue.
Kris Ohlenkamp
 

February 22, 2013

All concerned parties:
 
Things are progressing, albeit slowly, from many angles. The following is a list of significant activities in the last 2 weeks (Feb. 11-22).
 
The Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council has joined the Encino, Tarzana, and Lake Balboa Neighborhood Councils in passing motions and writing letters to the City Council expressing their concerns about the loss of wildlife habitat and not being informed about Corps activities in the area.
 
The Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Areas Steering Committee (SBWASC) and SFV Audubon Society (SFVAS) members walked through the North and South Reserves with Colonel Toy and his staff to discuss what was there, what happened, and what can be done to improve the area now and in the future.
 
SBWASC and SFVAS members attended meetings with the Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation, which is preparing a report to the City Council, to provide our input and make recommendations. Although their report will probably not be ready by the next meeting of the council’s Ad Hoc River Committee, it is on the agenda and we will be there to provide comments.
 
The Corps laid down jute netting and straw waddles on the degraded banks of Haskell Creek to stabillize the soil and prevent erosion. Consideration was given to removing additional non-native trees and mulching/removing large items of debris, but the presence of nesting Song Sparrows throughout the affected area caused a halt to all such activities.
 
SBWASC and SFVAS members met with Corps staff and developed a list of items that need to be discussed in more detail so that agreements can be reached on how to move forward. The Corps will not be doing any activities in the affected area (with the exception of possible emergency flood related actions) until such agreements are reached. A meeting to work on those details is scheduled for March 20.
 
The Regional Water Quality Control Board Investigation (RWQCB) continues. The Corps has provided their initial response (Technical Report) to that Investigative Order. SFVAS has provided our response to the Corps Technical Report pointing out numerous errors and omissions.
 
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has launched their own investigation into possible notification, permitting, and endangered species violations. They are also interested in working with the Corps to expand possible Bell’s Vireo habitat. I have been in contact with them, providing background information.
 
Thanks for your continued support,
Kris

 

 

 SFVAS’ Comments Concerning ACOE Response to The Regional Water Quality Control Board

SFVAS Comments to LARWQCB

The Regional Water Quality Control Board (California EPA) sent a list of items to the ACOE concerning the South Wildlife Area in January. February 11th the Army Corps. replied to the RWQCB. Then on February 15th the RWQCB sent questions to the Army Corps. concerning their reply.

This is a link to all reports to and from the Water Quality Control Board -

http://www.swrcb.ca.gov/rwqcb4/water_issues/programs/enforcement/Sepulveda.shtml

 

 Important Walk Through of the South Wildlife Area with Colonel Toy ACOE

February 12th – SFVAS and other Environmental Groups walked through the South Wildlife Area with Col. Toy.
Colonel Toy has stopped all other work in the South Wildlife Area (work other than chipping of cut down trees and large branches and removing remaining exotic trees). He has invited the community to assist and observe all subsequent activities – concessions to the “Enviros”.
 
Col. Toy stated that Phases 2 and 3 (of their re-vegetative plan) are reopened for discussion and public input and negotiations. Steve Hartman(CNPS) was very convincing as to native/non-native plant issues and the appropriate use of herbicides. Steve also showed what a small group of volunteers could achieve, and gave the Colonel a perspective on how the habitat could be maintained without violent cutting and mowing. The Colonel received that information and has incorporated it into his thinking.
 
It was re-agreed that the meetings talked about last week , would be scheduled to develop a mutually agreeable “plan forward”. There will be a “vision” meeting in a week that will help clarify more about Corps requirements and resources for the immediate future.
 
The opening for some type of agreement between the Corps and the environmental groups about the future of the area is key for the long term.
 
One negative was the ACOE does not want water back in the Pothole Pond because it will then subject them to additional regulations if it becomes a “wetlands”. They also do not want trees with large limbs that could break and clog the gates.
 
The environmental groups should hold strong to the concept of letting the naturally occurring (and resprouting) vegetation reclaim the area and that future plantings can be limited to small trees (such as native ash and willows) and shrubs. Also suggested is that if the ACOE can bring in some kind of a mower with inflated tires (as opposed to tank treads) to cut the shrubbery to 5′ tall, that would be OK. Such mowers are at work in New England where they cut hedgerows near roads.
 
It appears Col. Toy wanted the other ACOE staff members at the meeting to hear directly from the public so that they would understand how important this area is. Colonel Toy and his staff learned much about the value of a native habitat preserve and how to manage it from the excellent examples provided by Kris, Steve, Glenn and others. The non-Corps participants also learned what limits Colonel Toy may place on any future options for the area.
 
The time spent with the Corps was not wasted yesterday. This process will take the time it needs, easily much longer than anyone would like.
 
Excerpts from meeting notes of Steve Hartman, George Watland, Kris Ohlenkamp, and Dave Weeshoff.
 
 
 
US ACOE’s coverage of the walk through

Summary of 2nd Formal Meeting With USACE

February 6, 2013

By Kris Ohlenkamp

 

I am happy to report that, for the first time, I am optimistic about the direction that the Corps (USACE) is taking in regards to their Vegetative Management Plan (VMP).  No more lies (or whatever polite word you want to use), no more intransigence (look it up), and no more hoping it will all go away (we won’t).

 

We came to several verbal agreements/understandings that I will use my own words to describe here.  Then, I will send an email to the Corps to confirm that our understandings are the same.  I am confident that they will be, and I wanted you to know first – because you have all been very helpful in getting us to where we are today.

 

#1.  They assured us that there will be no further Corps activities, with equipment of any kind, in the affected area without our knowledge, approval, and/or direct involvement/supervision.

#2.  They agreed to restore the pre-existing decomposed granite trails/maintenance roads, with the possibility of extending the trails/roads to include the newly created routes.

#3.  Under our direction, they will proceed with removing already downed trees and branches that could adversely impact dam flood gates in case of a significant flood.

#4.  They will also remove all downed trees and other debris from the Pothole Pond so that it can be restored to its former, or better, state.

#5.  They will work with us to identify all non-native trees that should be removed to provide space for more appropriate native species.  Removal of those trees will take place after appropriate notification and approval of the concerned regulatory agencies.

#6.  They also agreed to consider alternative native plants (other than salt grass) to re-vegetate the affected area and create suitable natural ecosystems for the area.

 

Thanks again for your support, and wish us luck in our continuing efforts towards creating a positive future for the wildlife of the San Fernando Valley and the entire Los AngelesRiver.

 

 

 

You Tube video from Steve Hartman – Steve’s youtube video

 

From the LATimes, State agency says U.S. cleared wildlife habitat without permit

 
NEW 1/20/2013 A LA Daily News Editorial Comment – Army Corps’ Big Chop cut out wildlife heart of L.A. River

From the Natural Resources Defense Council Staff Blog  In LA, the Army Corps of Engineers Bulldozes a Wildlife Refuge, by David Pettit

From KCET, Razed Expectations: Why it Matters that the Army Corps Bulldozed the Sepulveda Sanctuary

Please read and comment on this LA Times article about the Sepulveda Basin South Wildlife Area cleared by the Army Corps of Engineers.

From Kris Ohlenkamp, Conservation Chair of the San Fernando Valley Audubon, a clear and informative account of the wetland devastation.

See at the bottom of this page for Kris’ list of significant problems with the ACOE’s plan for the South Wildlife Preserve.

The photograph below is of an area that used to be a pond surrounded by trees.

Wildlife Area Pond Dec 2012

 

BEFORE AND AFTER PHOTOGRAPHS

Photographer Mathew Tekulsky has posted dramatic before and after images demonstrating the scope of the destruction:

Views of the South Preserve looking toward the Los Angeles River
Views of the South Preserve looking west toward Haskell Creek
Entrance to the Sepulveda Basin South Preserve.

 

CONTACT YOUR PUBLIC REPRESENTATIVES

If you are local to the San Fernando Valley and would like to help us stop this destruction of wildlife habitat, please let your Congressman Sherman know how you feel.

MEDIA COVERAGE & MORE LINKS

Problems with the Project (revised) - From Kris Ohlenkamp -

SIGNIFICANT CONCERNS ABOUT THE PROJECT DESCRIPTION

 

  1. The proposal is not in conformance with the Master Plan (MP)

See MP section 4.2 – Vegetative Management Lands description and, 6.7 – Recommendations for that description and, 6.2.3 – “Environmentally Sensitive” classification also applies to this area.

 

  1. There are substantial contradictions throughout the Project description.

One example:  On page 3 it says herbicides will be used “in the second year”, on page 5 it says “two year period of spraying the area with a herbicide”, on pages 18+19 it says “the spraying of an approved herbicide would occur for several years”.

 

  1. There are numerous significant omissions and errors that are critical to the meaning of the document .

One example:  section 2.2.2 first paragraph:  “In the first year…vegetation from the dam westward to the point where Burbank Blvd. crosses the Los AngelesRiver, native trees would remain”.  What text is missing after the word River?  Is it “and”, or is it “would be removed”.

 

  1. There are numerous unsupported allegations with absolutely no supporting data provided.

Some examples:  no crime statistics presented, how many fires resulted from homeless encampments, what percent of vegetation cover was non-native.

 

  1. Although salt grass is native to California, it is not native to the area, nor is it associated with oak woodlands, as is purported to be the case.  Also, it would most likely not survive a normal summer here without irrigation.

 

  1. Section 1.5.2 states that there are “no formal recreation trails in the area” and yet the Corps and City/County funds paid more than $60,000 for the construction of same in 1999 – which were destroyed by this project.

 

  1. Section 3.6.1, where discussing the endangered Bell’s Vireo, says “None have been observed in the proposed action area”.  When, in fact, a Corps Ecologist (along with several others) have observed Bell’s Vireos within 5 feet of Haskell Creek – where all vegetation has now been removed.

 

  1. Section 3.6.2 states “A significant impact would occur if the proposed alternatives:  created substantial loss of species diversity in natural vegetation and wildlife habitat.”  How did this not trigger an EIS?

 

  1. Why is it necessary to remove vegetation, further than 50 feet from the toe of the embankment, “for visual inspection of the Dam features for flood risk management for safety downstream of the Dam”, as stated in the FONSI?

 

 

 

 

SIGNIFICANT CONCERNS WITH THE PROJECT IMPLEMENTATION

 

  1. Native plants were not slated for removal and yet they were.

If the reasoning is that they were too intertwined with non-natives to effectively be removed, that should have been noted as part of the planning process (faulty assessment of existing conditions).  If not, such a significant change in the protocol should have triggered a halt to the project until it could be reassessed.  Who made the decision to change the protocol and proceed?  Who was responsible for assessing the conditions prior to writing up the plan in the first place?

 

  1. The District Senior Ecologist did not identify and flag any native trees (as required in the FONSI).  Dozens of native trees were in fact removed, some dug up by the roots, and several Oak trees were rammed by tractors, cut with chain saws, and had their limbs hacked off.

This was observed and acknowledged by Alex Deraney (USACE), Louise Sahagun (LA Times), and others on December 28, 2012.

 

  1. Section 2.2.2 says “all trucks would stay on existing maintenance roads”, which is obviously not the case (photo documentation) – in fact they created several new roads and obliterated the recreational trail and associated monuments.

 

  1. There was no mention of the Wildlife Pond anywhere in the document.  The filling in and complete obliteration of the Pond and associated habitat, where invasive non-native weeds were practically non-existent, was completely unwarranted and not within the scope of the FONSI.

 

  1. Actual Least Bell’s Vireo habitat was eliminated when all of the riparian vegetation was removed from Haskell Creek between the footbridge and the Los Angeles River.

Observed by Kris Ohlenkamp and Carvell Bass (Corps Ecologist) on April 15, 2008, and several times independently thereafter.