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By Andrea Papagianis

Laguna Beach planning commissioners gave their OK on a portion of the South Coast Water District’s $90 million project to repair a 60-year-old underground tunnel carrying upwards of one million gallons of waste-water a day from Dana Point and South Laguna.

The commission unanimously approved a conditional use permit and coastal development permit December 11 for a portion of the project lying within Laguna Beach’s local coastal zone, but other areas of the project will need California Coastal Commission approval.

“There is an enormous need for this project,” said Joe McDivitt, SCWD director of operations. “It must be done to protect our environment and the crews that maintain this vital piece of infrastructure.”

The 2-mile tunnel runs along South Coast Highway from Three Arch Bay to Aliso Beach Park, which the district describes as undersized, deteriorating and unsafe. Plans include widening the tunnel from 6- to 9-feet in diameter and installing a pipeline encased in concrete. The tunnel will also be stabilized with concrete as the current dirt and wooden beam support system is set for replacement.

With the planning commission’s approval, the utility can move forward with portions of the project within the city’s discretionary authority. The district expects a construction team to be in place and a review by regional agencies to be complete by September 2014.

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