ORANGE COUNTY, CA-In a key decision regarding the Bolsa Chica wetlands, the California Coastal Commission voted yesterday to restore this 1,200-acre expanse of coastal land between Huntington Beach and Seal Beach at a cost of $100 million.

The plan, which was approved in a unanimous vote, calls for creating a 360-ft wide channel that would reconnect Bolsa Chica to the ocean and thus restore the wetlands to their natural state. In order to make room for the channel, a section of the Pacific Coast Highway would have to be razed and replaced with a bridge. Pending approval from several state and federal agencies, the project is expected to get underway in 2003.

Three decades ago, the Bolsa Chica expanse was supposed to be transformed into a major commercial and residential development. However, the presence of the wetlands has kept the area from being developed. Last autumn, a major decision was made by the California Coastal Commission to restrict development to the 65-acre upper tier of the mesa that overlooks the wetlands.

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