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Coastal cleanup helps lagoon restoration site

DEL MAR – 12-year-old Anna Szymanski spent her Saturday morning planting native shrubs and working to help restore the environment.
“It’s nice to give back because we’re hurting (the environment) so much,” she said.
Anna, her sister Elizabeth, 10, and their father Paul were all out in support of the I Love a Clean San Diego and San Diego Coastkeeper coordinated Coastal Cleanup Day Sept. 17.
Just east of Interstate 5, 100 employees of SDG&E and Sempra Energy descended upon the San Dieguito Lagoon wetlands restoration site all eager to rid the area of trash and to cut back and remove plenty of invasive weeds.
SDG&E officials, including President Mike Niggli, and Pam Fair, chief environmental officer all made efforts in support of the day. Other dignitaries included Supervisor Pamela Slater-Price and Stephen Heverly, a representative from Councilmember Sherri Lightner’s office.
“We’re looking for our biggest cleanup ever, countywide,” said Slater-Price, adding that cleanup should be every day. “We’re calling a lot of attention to it today, which is a great thing. It gets a lot of people engaged.”
Erika Lopez, 15, of Point Loma was volunteering her efforts for the first time. “I like helping the environment,” she said. Helping the environment is something she looks to continue to do in the future, Lopez added.
The San Dieguito Lagoon site is in the neighborhood of Sharon Cohen, an attorney for SDG&E, and just one of the reasons she was participating.
“Beautifying my neighborhood is always a good thing,” she said. “I drive by this location every week and I wanted to be a part of this.”
The wetlands project is being funded by SDG&E and Southern California Edison as the environmental mitigation project for the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.
“It’s really a great progress that has been made on the wetlands restoration. It’s an inspiration to see what has happened in the few years since they received all the permits for the improvements,” said Niggli. “We’re glad to see that the mitigation monies from the power plant are going to good use.”
The project has since restored 150 acres of wetlands when initial construction began in 2006.
“As I walked in here I have to say there were still a lot of pieces of trash around,” said Fair. “It was disappointing to see things just thrown in such a beautiful area, so there’s still cleanup to do here,” she added.
The volunteers also worked with San Dieguito River Park rangers to identify and remove some of the invasive weeds in the wetlands.
Park Ranger Natalie Borchardt of the San Dieguito River Park Trail said Saturday’s event was a huge benefit to the park rangers.
Working with very little funding, the rangers rely on volunteers to assist them in maintaining the trails and restoring the habitat, Borchardt said. “We only have six park rangers for a huge amount of land, and the land is spread out all the way from the oceans to the mountains,” she said.
“It’s so helpful, and necessary for us to have a good volunteer base in order to accomplish our goals. It’s hard to get a lot of work done, when you’re only one person.”
What would have taken Borchardt a week to perform some of the much needed maintenance to the trail that runs along the wetlands preserve, took a group of about eight volunteers a matter of hours. An early tally showed the volunteers had collected and removed 700 pounds of green waste from the area.
“It’s good work,” Niggli said. “I live in a condo and it’s sort of like an opportunity to get your yard work fix in. I’m enjoying myself, and having all of the employees out here is great,” he added.
For more information on the San Dieguito Lagoon restoration process, visit sce.com/wetlands. For volunteering information with the San Dieguito River Park, visit sdrp.org.