Eco groups at odds over DreamWorks development

An environmental group opposed to the DreamWorks/Playa Vista development near Marina del Rey is set today to announce plans to file suit in federal court, charging that the project would further harm the habitat needed by 19 species that are officially listed as either endangered or threatened.

But a rival environmental group says the proposed lawsuit actually will hurt the very species it is supposed to help.

The Wetlands Action Network is hoping to use the federal Endangered Species Act to protect animals such as the light-footed clapper rail, the unarmored threespine stickleback, the San Diego fairy shrimp and others that it says need the Ballona Wetlands to live. The group is trying to block development of the planned $8 billion, 1,000-acre commercial and residential development project.

“There are 19 threatened and endangered species that we’ll be talking about,” Hanscom said. “These species require the Ballona Wetlands for their home.”

Should the project go forward however, current design plans call for restoring major sections of the wetlands that are not currently supporting wildlife, said Ruth Landsford, chairperson of Friends of Ballona Wetlands, another environmental group. Thus the lawsuit will hurt the species by delaying the restoration, she said.

Of the species mentioned by the Wetlands Action Network, Landsford said: “This is a list of endangered species that might use this area when it is restored, but most of these species don’t reside there now.”

It is not until the wetlands are restored that most of the 19 species will return to the area, she said.

The Wetlands Action Network is opposed to virtually all new development in the Ballona area, and is using the federal lawsuits as delaying tactics, Landsford said.

“In the process, what they’re doing is really endangering these species,” she said.

The Wetlands Action Network is trying to stop the development on behalf of the animals and plants protected under the Federal Endangered Species Act, according to Marcia Hanscom, executive director of the wetlands protection group.

Today’s planned first step by the Wetlands Action Network will be to send a required 60-day legal notice to Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, DreamWorks co-founder Steven Spielberg, real estate developer Rob Maguire and more than a dozen other people connected with the project.

The intended move into federal court comes about two weeks after the California Supreme Court refused to rehear a lawsuit filed by other environmental activists seeking to stop the project.

The DreamWorks studio has been envisioned as one part of the ambitious project that probably would include millions of square feet for other entertainment and technology companies, as well as thousands of residential units. But DreamWorks has not made any firm commitment to the project.

The Wetlands Action Network will be the lead organization in the planned lawsuit, joined by the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity, the California Public Interest Research Group and the Ballona Wetlands Land Trust.

The Wetlands Action Network already has filed suit under the federal Clean Water Act, challenging the Army Corps of Engineers’ permit to Maguire/Thomas partners allowing them to fill the wetlands, Hanscom said.

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