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American Trader settlement adds to repair funds

April 19, 2000

Jenifer Ragland & Jasmine Lee

NEWPORT BEACH -- The city has waited more than 10 years for retribution

from the 1990 American Trader oil spill, which devastated its pristine

shoreline with thick, black ooze, cutting off access to the recreation

area for months.

But now that the $4.7 million has finally come through, officials are on

a fast track to spend it all on beach-related projects within the

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18-month deadline.

"The money is there, so we will get it done," said Lloyd Dalton, a design

engineer in the city's Public Works Department, which will undertake

major repairs to the surfaces of both the Newport and Balboa piers, as

well as street light replacements on the boardwalk and an overhaul of the

Corona del Mar State Beach concession area.

State Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer this week approved the distribution of

about $11.6 million from a 1999 court settlement stemming from the 1990

incident off the Huntington Beach coast -- the worst spill in Orange

County history.

More than 400,000 gallons of crude oil spread along a 20-mile stretch of

the coast, closing beaches for weeks, costing millions in cleanup efforts

and killing at least 1,000 birds.

The bulk of the money came from the settlement with Attransco, the owner

of the oil tanker, and it will be spent by the agencies affected by the

spill.

Aside from Newport and Huntington Beach, they are the state Department of

Parks and Recreation, the state Department of Fish and Game, the state

Lands Commission and Orange County.

Councilwoman Jan Debay, the Newport Beach representative in the

settlement committee, said she is glad the process of distributing the

funds is complete.

"It's been a long 10-year process ... and believe me, it took a lot of

patience, but I was very pleased with the way the agencies worked

together," Debay said.

Newport Beach's share of the money will go toward 10 projects that have

been approved by a committee of people from each agency that has met on

the issue for several months.

While most of the projects deal with maintenance of existing public

facilities on or near the beaches, about $750,000 of the settlement

proceeds will help kick-start a new marine educational facility proposed

for Shellmaker Island.

Deputy City Manager Dave Kiff said the project is in the design stage

now, but will eventually become a hands-on laboratory and classroom for

students, educators, residents and visitors to Upper Newport Bay.

"It will teach them things they can do at home to keep the bay clean, as

in limiting urban runoff," Kiff said. "It will also focus on getting to

know the critters in the bay, as well as those critters that inhabit the

tide pools."

The goal is to teach people -- young and old -- about the fragile

environment without harming it by tramping all over it. That is also the

objective of a million-dollar county interpretive center being built in

the Back Bay, but that facility focuses more on the wildlife in the

ecological reserve, Kiff said.

"This one is more of a water quality experience," he added.

The marine facility could cost about $3 million, and Kiff said officials

hope to obtain the rest of the money through sponsorships, the state and

through the water-quality bond approved by voters last month, Proposition

13.

But the oil spill money, plus the donation from Corona del Mar architect

Ron Yeo to do the design work for free, gave the effort the needed push.

"It gets us going far enough where it becomes credible project instead of

pipe dream," Kiff said.

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