Day of the Dunes
Old lawsuit settlement money will help restore the Marina Dunes Preserve.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
After sitting dormant for more than a dozen years, a trust fund established because of an old Sierra Club lawsuit will be used to restore Marina dunes habitat. The Marina City Council recently awarded $75,000 to the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District to clean up construction debris and remove ice plant from the eroding Marina Dunes Preserve.
The money comes from a habitat protection and restoration fund, a piece of a 1986 settlement agreement between the Sierra Club and the developers of the Marina Dunes Resort. (The hotel, located on Dunes Drive next to Kula Ranch, is now called Sanctuary Beach Resort.)
Sierra Club sued the city and the developers for CEQA violations. As part of the settlement, developer Roger Post had to pay $18,500 plus 35 cents per hotel room in perpetuity into the trust funds set aside for environmental projects in the city’s Coastal Zone. The city also had to get the Sierra Club’s blessing before spending any of the money.
But other than a small grant to the Monterey Park District in 1996, the funds have been collecting dust. With turnover in city staff and at the Sierra Club, nobody knew how much money was there or where it was located, says Tim Jensen, planning and conservation manager for the park district. As it turns out, the pot totaled more than $370,000 (before the park district received its grant).
The district plans to use some of the $75,000 to remove concrete from the 50-acre dunes habitat, formerly owned by Graniterock, Jensen says. This will help lay the groundwork for the district’s $500,000 restoration plan. “Our plan for the Marina Dunes Preserve is to continue restoring it from non-native to native,” he says. “There is still a lot of ice plant out there.”
The district has been trying to slow erosion on the bare dunes with native plantings and eventually wants to build a boardwalk so the public can walk through the preserve. “I am hoping in subsequent years to tap into the trust fund again and the city can help us fund the next phase of it,” Jensen says.
The city is also planning to use some of the trust money to update its vernal pond management plan. “We want to get them cleaned up and identify if there are any endangered species and manage them,” says Christine di Iorio, community development director, adding the city wants to integrate its five vernal ponds into Marina’s park system.
But not all dune funds are in public hands. In addition to the 35-cent-per-room fee for the trust account, Sanctuary Beach Resort charges $15 per room for habitat restoration. Brian Rios, general manager for the resort, says the money goes toward maintenance for the hotel’s electronic golf carts as well taking care of dunes vegetation. “[The dunes] are weeded and they are still functioning and growing,” he says.
Rios won’t say how much the hotel has collected for habitat restoration from its guests. The privately owned resort has been managed by Belmont-based PVI Hotel Group for about two years.
Steve Zmak, executive committee member for the Ventana Chapter of the Sierra Club, met with Rios about combining the park district’s and resort’s restoration plans. “The restoration efforts would be seamless, instead of two independent restoration efforts going on that border each other,” Zmak says.
Rios says the hotel plans to work with the Sierra Club and the city to ensure that dunes are fully planted to protect the habitat from the relentless Marina wind.