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The Greenbelt Infiltration Project was slated for the southernmost section of the greenbelt in Hermosa Beach.

After more than a year of opposition from residents, Hermosa Beach City Council has scrapped the large stormwater infiltration project slated to be built at the southern end of the city's greenbelt.

City officials will look for a new home for the project, potentially forfeiting nearly $3.1 million in grant funding from the State Water Resources Board. Hermosa Beach is the lead city on the project and has a Memorandum of Understanding with neighboring cities.

At its March 26, 2019 meeting, council voted 4-1 to dissolve the MOU and will negotiate with those cities a substitute or revised MOU.

Mayor Stacey Armato and Councilmember Hany Fangary, part of a subcommittee with Redondo Beach councilmembers, said they would not recommend the greenbelt or South Park as suitable sites for the project due to the close proximity to residents.

“We have heard your concerns,” said Armato, after hearing from dozens of residents over the course of several meetings.

In 2013, Hermosa Beach joined Torrance, Redondo Beach, Manhattan Beach and the Los Angeles County Flood Control District to form the Beach Cities Watershed Management Group to comply with the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit to reduce bacteria in the Santa Monica Bay.

The Herondo Drain Watershed was identified as a “chronic source of elevated bacteria levels” where it drains at the southern border of the city. Hermosa Beach, in partnership with the other cities, was to receive funding for design and construction from the State Water Resources Board.

But that finding, nearly $3.1 million, may now be in jeopardy.

Because of pressure from residents who felt the infiltration project was too close to homes, the project was delayed.

In December, the State Water Resources Control Board issued a breach of agreement notice.

Hermosa Beach was required to notify the state board by April 1 if was going to implement the project within the city limits or forfeit the grant funding.

At Tuesday's meeting, some councilmembers were optimistic they could either negotiate an extension to that deadline, or if that doesn't work, find funding elsewhere.

“We haven't given up on the grant opportunity yet,” Fangary said.

Renewed options with Redondo

Negotiations with Redondo Beach for a new site was given a boost when the city received a letter from Redondo Beach Mayor Bill Brand a couple hours before the start of the city council meeting. The letter discussed the feasibility of North Francisca Avenue as a potential site for the infiltration project.

“The City of Redondo Beach is highly concerned that if the Greenbelt Infiltration Project is canceled or modified so late in the project's completion timeframe, it may result in the dissolution of the MOU, a loss of the funds already spent on the Project design, and a relinquishment of the $3,099,400 grant,” wrote Brand in the letter. “Such an action may jeopardize each agency's compliance status with the Regional Board, and may require each agency to invest additional funds to develop alternative projects to meet the reduction goals of our MS4 permits.”

Brand wrote that if the exploration of North Francisca is approved, the city of Redondo Beach would provide Right of Way permits to perform the study. But Brand did request the city of Hermosa Beach to “provide insurance” that other sites are studied since it is “unknowns in North Francisca provide enough room to meet compliance requirements.”

Hermosa Beach could break up the project into smaller projects.

Armato was optimistic about Brand's letter, as were a number of residents who spoke Tuesday, who were in favor looking at alternative sites, away from the greenbelt or South Park.

“Yes, we do need to protect the ocean environment, we need an infiltration project,” said resident Xavier Haase. “In my opinion, South Park doesn’t make sense, it's just too close to people and the Greenbelt does not make sense either because it's just to close to people... we need an infiltration project and my hope and my prayers are with Francisca ... I'm grateful for the Redondo Beach people involved.”

But Hermosa Beach City Attorney Mike Jenkins said there is an “uncertain path” by not going with Greenbelt or South Park. He said the city will probably lose the grant and face “substantial negotiations” with the Regional Board as well as other cities in the MOU.

Failed negotiations could lead to substantial fines and potential litigation.

“It's fraught with obstacles,” Jenkins said.

Councilmember Jeff Duclos was the only no vote Tuesday in part because of those concerns.

“It's going to require other local entities ... to make decisions in our favor, other organizations, groups and bodies, to make decisions in our favor, state elected officials to go beyond lip service and actually do something with a sense of immediacy to solve a problem,” Duclos said. “All these things the city attorney has mention need to fall in place ... that's very unlikely.”

Duclos added the potential 12 months of construction, for example at South Park, could lead to a “lifetime of enhancements and benefits.”

South Park, which appears to be the option if negotiations with Redondo Beach fail, would be the most cost efficient and less disruptive alternative to the greenbelt location, he said.

Contact this reporter at mhixon@tbrnews.com or on Twitter @michaeljhixon.com.

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