By Jennifer Henion

Triplicate staff writer

The Lake Earl Lagoon was breached early Saturday morning after Del Norte County officials got verbal clearance Friday evening.

However, some county officials and others on the scene at 6 a.m. Saturday say the sandbar separating the lagoon from the ocean had already been trenched during the night with shovels.

Although few county officials were available yesterday because of a holiday, the few that were contacted couldn't say for sure who actually breached Lake Earl.

County Engineer Art Reeve said he arrived at the breach site at about 8 a.m., Saturday and that county crews and an excavator were already on scene. He added that the trench was already five to 10 feet wide with water draining into the ocean when he arrived.

Reeve said he had no knowledge of a citizen breach.

andquot;All I know are the facts. When I got there, the CAT was there,andquot; he said.

Unofficially, people connected with the Lake Earl debate said they too had heard a band of citizens breached the sandbar and allowed the lake to drain before officials arrived on the scene.

Some county officials and others, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said a caravan of trucks made its way to the breach site at about 3 a.m. Saturday.

Found at the scene at 6 a.m. were a large number of empty beer cans, observers said.

Many citizens in the county have also heard about the incident.

andquot;I did hear a rumor about that, but I've been ill since last week,andquot; said a local political activist Rick McNamara.

Environmentalist Alan Barron said he had no idea who did it, but heard that a group of 30 or so people caravaned to the site in trucks and recreational vehicles.

The incident was apparently not reported to the Del Norte County Sheriff's Department or to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - the agency with ultimate permitting authority over the breach site.

Army Corps Lt. Col. Michael McCormick gave verbal approval to the county late Friday afternoon to drain the 11 foot high lake that had flooded nearby yards, septic tanks and roads for the previous few weeks.

The approval was only intended for trained county staff, however. It is illegal, according to Army Corps Ecologist Kelley Reid, for citizens not granted permission to perform the breach.

One full day after the county arrived to drain the lagoon, Reeve said the water level dropped from 11 feet above sea level to three feet and that the breach channel widened to 520 feet.

Roads leading to the Lake Earl Wildlife Area are no longer flooded.

California Fish and Game agent Tim Williamson who is stationed at the Lake Earl Wildlife Area headquarters was not available for questions yesterday.

Del Norte County Supervisors Jack Reese and David Finigan said yesterday they were unaware of the incident. Supervisors Martha McClure, Chuck Blackburn and Sarah Sampels were unavailable for comment.