Despite changes, BayKeeper, Heal the Bay to stay the course

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By Ryan O’Quinn /Special to The Malibu Times

Heal the Bay and Santa Monica BayKeeper have served as the ombudsman for the Malibu coast for years. This summer, major changes are occurring at the helm of each administration, but both groups maintain there will be no major changes in the purpose or goal for each organization.

Heal the Bay has hired a new staff member. Issues Manager Craig Shuman will facilitate and implement plans for the restoration of Malibu Lagoon.

The project was a direct result of a study of the property that began in 1998 at UCLA under the direction of Dr. Rich Ambrose.

“We will be working closely with the California Coastal Conservancy and State Parks and Rec.,” Shuman said. “The work will be an actual construction plan to enhance the lagoon, and I will be working also with a Malibu Lagoon Task Force and a Lagoon Restoration Working Group.”

Shuman added that they have sent out RFQs (Requests for Qualifications) to various consulting companies, and they will select one or two top firms to help Heal the Bay with the restoration project over the next year.

“Heal the Bay will stay on point and work with the other groups,” Mark Abramson of Heal the Bay said. “Heal the Bay is facilitating the project and will oversee the implementation.”

While Shuman is just getting his feet wet at Heal the Bay, Steve Fleischli of Santa Monica BayKeeper is vacating his post as executive director.

Fleischli will be transplanting to New York to assume a position as head of the Water Keeper Alliance, a coalition of 114 river, sound and bay keepers around the world. He will be working directly with Robert F. Kennedy Jr., president of the organization.

“Everything is going to stay the course,” Fleischli said. “We have a really good synergistic staff here and nothing is changing with that.”

Associate Director Heather George affirmed that no major changes in policies will occur, and they will be making a decision very soon on a replacement for Fleischli. Currently the job is posted on the BayKeeper Web site, and according to Fleischli, whomever is hired will assume the title of BayKeeper rather than executive director, and will be named within the next two weeks.

“Steve has been quite a force for us here, and we are looking for someone with a similarly aggressive legal background,” George said. “We will continue our strong history of going after polluters and protecting the bay the strongest way we know how, which is filing lawsuits.”

George also said Santa Monica BayKeeper and Heal the Bay work together on various projects, and described BayKeeper as the “scrappy kid brother” to Heal the Bay.

“We are smaller than Heal the Bay and we get involved with what they need in a more controversial way,” George said. “They have an excellent education system and policy program. We work with them all the time.”

Another major difference in the two organizations, George said, is that BayKeeper has an “on the water presence” with the BayKeeper boat and the monthly volunteers who are on the beaches. They are currently working on a filtration project in Paradise Cove to remove pollutants from runoff in that area.

Throughout organizational shifts, the two local environmental watchdogs will continue to protect the Santa Monica Bay.