Meetings on the controversial Rindge Dam removal project, which have been consistently attended by members of the public, abruptly took on a different tone this month when a Serra Retreat resident was barred from sitting in on what officials deemed a technical meeting.
Suzanne Goode, a senior ecologist with the California State Parks and Recreation Department, maintains that the resident had vilified and misrepresented the project in front of the Malibu City Council last year and in letters to local media after sitting in on a 2012 meeting of what is called a “Technical Advisory Committee” (TAC) by the two agencies spearheading the project—State Parks and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“I made the decision at that point because her attack on us before was starting to gather some ripple effect,” Goode said. “So I was the one that decided I would sort of be on the lookout for her.”
Goode said the meetings are “working meetings” and are not advertised for public attendance.
The resident, who did not want her name used for this story, said she had attended meetings like this in the past and had never met Goode until she asked her to leave the meeting two weeks ago. Being asked to leave made her even more skeptical on the secrecy of the plans, she said.
“They’re not informing the public,” the resident said. “You first educate people and make sure they understand the ‘why’ of something, and that’s why I was going.”
At the heart of these meetings lies a plan to dismantle the Rindge Dam, a state-owned 100-foot structure that local, state and federal agencies have wanted to take down for decades.
“We didn’t exactly ever close the meeting,” Goode said. “They’re working meetings where we’re discussing these technical issues and deciding how to present it best to the public when the study comes out.”
Goode said there isn’t a consistent meeting schedule and, in all, approximately 13 federal, state, county and local agencies attend them, according to a list sent by Goode to The Malibu Times. Some of the agencies representated at the meetings include the cities of Malibu and Calabasas, Los Angeles County, the Surfrider Foundation and California State Parks, among others.
Sen. Fran Pavley, who represents Malibu and neighboring cities in the California State Senate and was recently named to a commission overseeing the State Parks and Recreation Department, said she was aware of the Serra resident being asked to leave the meeting.
“I was very disturbed to hear this, which is never acceptable regardless of circumstances, and my staff apologized to her on behalf of the state,” Pavley said in a statement to The Malibu Times.
She joined the resident in wanting to put some pressure on authorities to be more up-front on the project’s details.
“It may be time for some kind of public community update on the status of this project, which would be of interest to me as well,” Pavley said.
Joint plans between the California State Parks and Recreation Department and the Army Corps Engineers to tear down the dam have been in the works for about 10 years, with the idea first surfacing in the 1980s. Cost estimates on the removal project range from $40 million to $80 million.
However, little has been made known to the public about concrete plans for the removal and a highly anticipated feasibility study has yet to be released by the agencies. State Parks says it should be completed by the end of 2013. The study is supposed to lay out the likelihood of removing the aging dam successfully.
Advocates for removal say the dam, which was built in 1926, is antiquated and blocking a key migration point for endangered steelhead trout species.
“It doesn’t serve any purpose,” Goode said. “The main reason [for the project] is to reconnect the lower creek with the upper creek. We have a federally endangered fish species that’s genetically unique … Malibu Creek once had hundreds and hundreds of these fish. They’re now blocked from going upstream.”
But some Serra Retreat residents fear removing the dam will unleash a flood of sediment from the dam area into the nearby creek and lagoon. Other opponents believe steelhead trout have never used the Malibu watershed as a migratory haven and are not native to the area.