ENCINITAS — For Doug Gibson, the executive director of the San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve, a Nov. 29 event was more than two decades in the making.
Gibson and a throng of state, regional and local officials — including Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear and State Sen. Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) — gathered at the lagoon’s nature center to break ground on a historic restoration of the nearly 1,000-acre reserve.
But Gibson said the celebration wasn’t quite ready until 9:30 a.m., when officials received the final permit necessary to move forward with the project.
“Today we celebrate a milestone in protecting nature and connecting communities,” Gibson said.
The $102 million restoration is part of a suite of transit-oriented projects along the Interstate 5 corridor known as the North Coast Corridor Program, or Build NCC, a trade-off of sorts between state transportation and environmental agencies.
Build NCC, which kicked off last year, is a $6 billion program that includes the creation of carpool lanes along Interstate 5 between Solana Beach and State Route 78 in Oceanside, the double tracking of the rail line in Encinitas and the construction of a new segment of the Coastal Rail Trail.
The projects are being paid for with federal, state and regional dollars from TransNet, the regional half-cent sales tax earmarked for transportation projects.
The first phase of the restoration, which kicked of Nov. 29, calls for the clearing of vegetation from the lagoon and constructing a series of dikes along the main lagoon channel and inlet to control water levels, the dredging of 450,000 cubic yards of sand from the central basin that will be used for sand replenishment along the coastlines of Solana Beach and Cardiff-by-the-Sea, and the refilling of the dredging pit with lagoon sediment.
Subsequent phases will include dredging of various channels within the lagoon, which will increase tidal flows and also improve the health of the lagoon and establish new wetland habitat for the lagoon wildlife, as well as the creation of new pedestrian trails within the lagoon.
Officials at the groundbreaking called the collaboration of environmental and transportation agencies on the Build NCC suite of projects “unprecedented” and a model for future collaborations statewide.
“The San Elijo Lagoon Restoration marks a significant milestone for preserving and enhancing our coastal resources,” said Del Mar Councilman Terry Sinnott, who serves as the vice chairman of the San Diego Association of Governments, the regional transportation agency stewarding the projects.
Caltrans Acting Chief Deputy Director Laurie Berman, who also spoke at the Nov. 29 ceremony, echoed Sinnott’s sentiments, saying that projects like the lagoon restoration mark a shift in how the state transit agency handles projects.
“Not too long ago you would not have heard of the executive management team crisscrossing the state to develop projects that would have a positive impact on the environment and the transportation system,” Berman said. “And I am proud of the work we are doing to build holistic projects, of which a showcase for the rest of the state.”
Gibson said that as a result of the restoration efforts, visitors to the lagoon will see healthier waters, more wildlife and better access to the lagoon.
“It has been a long time coming,” he said.