Alright, so I have some opinions on this whole Hitchcock business. The operative word in that sentence is OPINIONS. If you agree with me, fine; if you don't, you don't. Here goes....
I've been a fairly active commenter over at The District Weekly's comment board about this matter, so the following is largely a recitation of things I have posted over at TDW, and is summarized below.
As mentioned previously, Derek Burnham can do one of several things on Monday. I don't really think that outright denial of the permit is feasible as Hitchcock has already done the requested work (importing the soil, etc.) and this matter is really a formality. So that leaves 1) approve the permit outright, 2) approve with conditions, or 3) delay.
I'm liking option 2: approve with conditions. Mr. Hitchcock clearly did wrong when he conducted his earthwork without a permit. He destroyed habitat (critters did call that land home) and endangered human life (hence the emergency action to replace the landfill cap due to methane release).
This is a serious matter and it deserves serious attention. Moreover, it deserves serious discussion about what options are available as remediation for his egregious actions. And I just don't think that discussion is transpiring, which is an absolute pity.
My default position is to require restoration of the subject lands. He erred and he should put it back. However, what is feasible with regards to restoration? That is the kicker.
Restoration can mean any number of things - it can mean just restoring the contours, it can mean just re-planting vegetation, it can mean just "putting back" the soil, it can mean some combo of the three, etc.
I think it is important to ask for restoration that is commensurate with the level of violation (come on people, he didn't destroy Bolsa Chica, the subject lands weren't exactly pristine anything....). But in order to understand how best to remediate, one must understand what the land WAS prior to the illegal earthwork (not what the land is currently).
Is it a wetlands now? I dunno. He stripped the area of vegetation, imported "foreign" soil and then conducted determination surveys in the dry season. You do the math. However, I do not think it fair to say "well, the area isn't wetlands now, so no restoration is necessary."
Was it a wetlands prior to the illegal earthwork? I dunno. But I do believe that is the baseline which should be used in decision-making.
If looking at the historic baseline shows absolultely no wetlands, then it is what it is, and the area should be recontoured to its previous state.
If looking at the historic baseline shows wetland potential, then restore to that previous potential.
That is why I believe that a condition of the requested permit should be to require a restoration plan be produced. Again, restoration means many things - it could be minor (simply restoring the contours), or it could be much more labor intensive (contours and vegetation, etc). I can't make a call as to what is adequate as I'm no biologist.
But I know that as the situation stands now, nothing (to my knowledge) is required of him. And I just don't think that is fair.