What price fish?


Some ask if it is prudent to spend millions of dollars on tearing down the Rindge Dam in order to reintroduce the steelhead trout to Malibu Creek when the country is facing an economic crises.

By Olivia Damavandi / Staff Writer

After members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers publicly disclosed the potential $31 million to $72 million cost of removing the Rindge Dam at a Malibu Creek Watershed Council meeting last week, Malibu residents are asking if it is prudent, given the current state of the economy, to spend millions of dollars for the sake of reinstating steelhead trout in Malibu Creek.

Meanwhile, a feasibility study of how to most effectively remove the dam was begun in 1999, and has increased from an originally estimated $2.1 million in 2004 to a current $3.9 million. The study is to determine what is the best alternative in removing, or altering, the dam to help with the reintroduction of the trout, and to improve the quality of the area’s watershed.

Joe Edmiston, executive director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, said in a telephone interview on Friday that removal of the Rindge Dam is “very prudent” because it will provide a great deal of jobs, open up the Malibu watershed to restock steelhead trout and because some of its sediments are suitable for beach replenishment.

“There’s no question about it, there are huge economic crises right now, but it’s not a permanent situation,” Edmiston said. “We shouldn’t make long-term decisions based on short-term conditions.

“I don’t think there’s an argument of higher priorities, but if you can do something now to help the environment, you should,” he added.

Malibu Realtor Louis T. Busch has written numerous letters to the Rindge Dam Subcommittee in opposition to the dam removal, both for fiscal and historical reasons.

When asked his opinion of the prudency of spending millions on the dam removal given the current state of the economy, Busch, in a telephone interview last week, said, “It’s about as crazy a thing as they can think of. I think it’s a time to figure out how to save funds instead of spend them.”

Delays, rising costs

The Army Corps of Engineers told The Malibu Times in June 2004 they were optimistic that the study would be completed by February 2005, at which time all research, tests and analysis would have been compiled into a document detailing a range of alternative options to achieve the goals of the project, as well as the actions and impacts of each one.

The next step would have been to design a plan determined by the study results, and then, when the project’s contents were agreed upon, implementation of the plan would follow.

The group predicted in 2004 that it was going to take five years to reach the phase of implementation.

The completion of the study has been delayed to at least 2010, according to Jim Hutchinson, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Watershed Studies Group lead, after which the design phase, that could last a minimum of several years, would begin.

Hutchinson said in a phone interview last week that he could not guarantee an exact date of when the study is expected to finish or how much money has been spent on the study to date. Nevertheless, the study is still continuing.

The potential cost of removing the Rindge Dam has also increased from an estimated maximum of $40 million in 2004 to a current maximum of nearly $73 million, as stated in a presentation delivered by Hutchinson at last week’s Malibu Creek Watershed Council meeting.

The potential price tags depend on the employment ratio of trucks and conveyor belts to transport material to one of three disposal sites, all located along Malibu Canyon Road.

Hutchinson said the most expensive method was proposed because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must suggest all associated impacts of the dam removal process, including impacts of truck traffic caused by the transport of matter to the disposal sites.

When asked about the justification of spending millions of dollars to remove the dam in the midst of a dwindling economy, Marriah Abellera, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers planning lead, said she didn’t quite know how to address the question, and directed it to Hutchinson, whom she said she thought might better be able to answer it. (Hutchinson did not return phone calls this week, and Abellera said he is out of town until Jan. 5).

In addition to the monetary issue, others think the Rindge Dam should remain intact because it bears historical and architectural significance.

An application submitted in August 1993 by Dorothy Stotsenberg, chairperson of the Committee to Designate the Rindge Dam as a California Point of Historical Interest, sought to do just that.

In the application, Stotsenberg said the dam should be retained because it is important in the gaining of knowledge and perspective on the history of Malibu, and because it is physically and visually accessible to the public. Stotsenberg also said the dam was unique for its design, engineering and construction.

Realtor Busch also believes the dam qualifies as an historic monument.