Plans for a new wastewater system on the property at the mouth of Tomales Bay where the Lawson family has operated a campground since the 1950s were approved by the California Coastal Commission last week, according to The Point Reyes Light.
The milestone decision marks an end to the family’s decades-long effort to permit its operations and satisfy the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin, which has played the watchdog to protect the site’s sensitive dune habitat.
Over the past decade, the Lawsons have tailored their operations to meet the terms of a coastal development permit they obtained in 2011, which required reducing and consolidating campsites, phasing out 170 residential trailers, implementing a series of conservation projects and developing a new wastewater system. The family proposed plans for the wastewater system several times without success, facing hurdles related to the fact that much of the 960-acre property qualifies as an environmentally sensitive habitat area or ESHA.
Mike Lawson, who grew up on the property and now serves as the president of the campground business, Lawson’s Landing, said negotiations with the county, the coastal commission staff and representatives from the E.A.C. pushed into the 11th hour before the commission’s hearing last Friday (Oct. 9). He expressed relief that an agreement was reached.
“We’ve spent the last 10 years following the lead from the C.C.C., working extensively, cooperating and doing everything that they wanted,” Lawson said. “I think we’ve done a good job and proved how serious we are with all the effort and money and things we’ve done to change Lawson’s Landing.”
Under the approved plans, the Lawsons will build an entirely new wastewater treatment and disposal facility, abandoning the existing leach fields. Besides serving seven employee houses, the system will allow the Lawsons to build new bathroom facilities for the 350 existing tent and RV campsites, which are today serviced by portable toilets, and to proceed with a plan approved in 2011 to build up to 20 guest cottages.
The wastewater system’s design and location are formalized in an amendment to the Lawsons’ 2011 coastal development permit, along with several other changes. These include plans for a new administrative office that will double as an emergency response center in times of need, a mobile food trailer, additional boat storage, a new barn to support agricultural uses, and a beach restoration project in an area where a pier was recently taken down. At the request of Marin County Fire, the family will make some emergency access improvements.
Lawson did not have a cost estimate for the work ahead, though he said the wastewater system alone could cost up to $2 million. Since he took the helm as president 25 years ago, his family has spent around $5 million in its effort to obtain permits, including funding for a scientific review panel with representatives recommended by the E.A.C.
The Lawsons’ 2011 permit allowed for the sale of a $5.5 million conservation easement to the Natural Resource Conservation Service on 465 acres of the property, a move that helped the family stay afloat in the face of high expenses. To fund the wastewater system, Lawson says he plans to apply for a loan from a federal program of the Department of Energy.