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COLUMN:Harbor speed issues spill over

THE HARBOR

September 22, 2006|By MIKE WHITEHEAD

Ahoy.

The dredging in the Back Bay is underway once again, and that is good news for Newport Harbor and should be headlines. However, I cannot believe the animosity being released against the Orange County Sheriff's Harbor Patrol in the aftermath of a patrol boat hitting Rupert.

For those who missed the story, Rupert was a black swan who was known as the harbor's unofficial mascot. Unfortunately, Rupert was killed after being struck by a patrol boat responding to a call that a body was floating in the water near the Newport Harbor Yacht Club. Many letters in the Pilot's Forum section are lambasting the deputy who was at the helm. Most say that the Harbor Patrol consistently speeds around the harbor out of control and that this led to Rupert's demise.

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There are three issues from what I can read between the lines in the letters to the editor. First, some people just dislike the Harbor Patrol, and this is the writer's chance to strike back at a law enforcement agency.

Second, some locals would like the county to abandon the Harbor Patrol facility and let the city of Newport Beach control the operations within Newport Harbor. There is some logic with this concept, yet practicality is the lack of funding for the city to operate a harbor patrol.

The bigger issue seems to be the emergency response speed of the patrol boats within the harbor. Three factors are associated with the speed, which are the size of the wake generated by the speeding vessel, the vessel's maneuverability, and the need for the deputies to get to the incident to potentially save a life.

The first two factors are not too complicated to address in the harbor. The patrol vessels' wakes are measured at various speeds, and there can be a plan stating maximum speeds to prevent damage to docks or boats. Plus, skippers know that you never let your vessel get out of control due to high speeds. I do not think that the responding deputy at the helm would let this happen, as they are veterans on the water.

However, the main argument is that a person who is floating in the water might have a chance to be saved if help can get there in time. I doubt that the responding deputies knew that the floating body was beyond hope of saving, but wondered if the clock was ticking for someone.

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