The Coast News Group
Lee Haydu, a 22nd District Agricultural Association board member and former Del Mar councilwoman, cuts the ribbon to celebrate the end of the construction phase of a wetland restoration project south of the Del Mar Fairgrounds. Joining her are 22nd DAA officials, Del Mar residents, a park ranger and members of the San Dieguito River Valley Joint Powers Authority, San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy and Friends of the San Dieguito River Valley. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek
CitiesCommunityDel Mar

Wetlands restoration celebrated

DEL MAR — Representatives from Del Mar, the 22nd District Agricultural Association and various agencies associated with the San Dieguito River Valley attended a July 15 ribbon cutting to celebrate the completion of the construction phase of a wetland restoration project south of the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

“It took a total team effort to make this happen,” said Gary Reist, deputy general manager for the 22nd DAA, which governs the fairgrounds. “It’s great for us. It’s great for the environment. It’s great for the animals out here.

“When you walk out here and see the flora and the fauna and the animals come to life it’s absolutely amazing,” he added. “Today is a big, big milestone.”

The project restored back to wetlands about 10 acres of land that until a few years ago served as overflow parking for fairgrounds events. It also completes another portion of the Coast-to-Crest Trail, which when finished will be a 71-mile connection from the beach in Del Mar to Volcan Mountain near Julian.

The restoration is part of a legal settlement between the 22nd DAA and the California Coastal Commission, adjacent cities of Del Mar and Solana Beach and San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority.

In exchange for the loss of 1,250 parking spaces there, the fairgrounds can continue using a parcel east of Jimmy Durante Boulevard for year-round parking and temporary events such as the pumpkin patch and Christmas tree sales.

“This is a wonderful area and I’m so glad that it’s finished,” said Lee Haydu, a former Del Mar council member and current 22nd DAA board member.

She said during her years-long involvement with the project, the parcel has had many nicknames, including pork chop and little dirt.

The recently completed portion of the trail is named for former state Sen. Christine Kehoe for her longstanding efforts to protect the environment, coastal resources and the San Dieguito River, 22nd DAA Director David Watson said.

Watson, a land-use attorney, also confirmed Haydu’s recollection of spending four hours trying to reach an agreement over the consent orders.

“She’s right,” he said. “I locked everybody in a room and told everyone we weren’t leaving until we agreed on all these lawsuits.”

Watson said consent orders were approved in March 2012 and permits were authorized in November 2013.

“Lawsuits were filed,” he said. “Lawsuits were won (by the 22nd DAA) a year or two later. So now, almost five years later, here we are. This is a wonderful accomplishment. This is a lovely event.

“But I would encourage the neighbors and the environmental groups and all the advocacy groups to be ever vigilant,” he added, noting that 22nd DAA board members come and go. “It’s going to be a constant attempt to keep everything in balance with our neighbors and the fairgrounds.”

Trish Boaz, executive director of the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy, agreed.

“I can’t believe this day has come,” she said. “It’s been a long and winding road to get here.

“We appreciate all of the work that everyone’s put into this and appreciate everyone keeping vigilant … because you never know what can happen in the future,” she added. “And without our hearts and our hands in these projects, who knows where that would go. So luckily we’re going in the right direction right now.”