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San Diego Creek clearing will proceed

February 27, 2004

Alicia Robinson

County workers were given the go-ahead to continue dredging and

clearing vegetation in San Diego Creek, but they can't start the work

until after the rainstorms expected today.

The Orange County Public Facilities and Resources Department

received emergency permits from the Army Corps of Engineers and

California Coastal Commission this week to continue clearing the

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creek, said county Public Works Director Kenneth R. Smith.

"The irony is that we cannot get in and remove any of this prior

to the storms coming up ... in the next two days, so as soon as we

are able to get in after the storms we will recommence work," Smith

said Wednesday.

Storms were expected to last through today, bringing as much as

three inches of rain, National Weather Service forecaster Stan

Wasowski said.

The county began working in mid-December on a $3.3 million project

to clear vegetation and sediment from a 2 1/2-mile stretch of the

creek between Michelson Drive and MacArthur Boulevard. County

supervisors declared the project an emergency after flood control

officials said the creek had become overgrown and choked with

sediment, creating a flood risk that could cause sewage to spill from

a nearby treatment plant into the Upper Newport Bay.

The county stopped work on the project Feb. 1 because it had cleared the area within its jurisdiction and was awaiting permits

from the Army Corps of Engineers and California Coastal Commission to

begin dredging sediment and clearing more plants and trees, Smith

said.

For environmentalists who have been following the issue, one

immediate concern is that a storm could wash exposed silt into

Newport Bay, but the removal of valuable animal habitat that's

already taken place has been an ongoing issue, environmentalist Jack

Skinner said.

"My concern has been the fact that the riparian corridor that

they've promised to save, actually there are significant areas of it

that have been denuded of any habitat," Skinner said. "They have just

aggressively taken out part of that corridor that has been important

[animal habitat]."

The dredging and plant removal allowed by the new permits will

take about a month, but to complete the project the county needs to

submit plans for future maintenance of the creek and mitigation of

the animal habitat that has been removed, Smith said.

Getting approval from various regulatory agencies for the

mitigation and maintenance plans could take some time.

"Typically, that is measured in years rather than months," Smith

said.

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