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Community Commentary:

Work on Upper Newport Bay ready to start

October 13, 2009|By Leslie Daigle

I recently toured Upper Newport Bay with engineers from the county and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to view the progress of the restoration project to date.

These unsung heroes met the challenge of engineering a plan to excavate 2.3 million cubic yards of sediment while minimizing disturbance to wildlife.

Together we marveled at the ability of nature to regenerate. The mud flats at 23rd Street are a huge success. Birds are foraging for worms and crustaceans in record numbers. Meanwhile, 20 least terns, an endangered species, are now nesting in the open, sandy area at Hot Dog Island.

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Over the winter, dredging operations worked 24/7 to excavate 500,000 cubic meters from Basin I by Jamboree Road near Fletcher Jones Motorcars. Due to the increase in basin depth, water circulation is improving.

And the work continues.

Earlier this week, USACE received bids through a competitive process to complete the Upper Newport Bay Restoration Ecosystem Project. Bids are being evaluated.

Project activity is scheduled to restart in late September. The length of construction is 365 days pursuant to the Notice to Proceed (NTP). Following construction, USACE will perform ecological monitoring for two years to document the success of the project.

The immediate economic impact is creating jobs to perform the dredging, such as equipment operators, tug boat crews, surveyors and biologists. Marine repairs are made at convenient harbor businesses and supplies are purchased locally.

One of the challenges of the project arose when users of North Star beach at Newport Aquatics Center (NAC) protested the conversion of sand to mud flats. The Corps yielded to the outcry, but U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Game were not willing to budge on the 10% compliance (no more than 10% loss in mud flats). As a result, a portion of Skimmer Island will be left as mud flat rather than removed entirely, as originally designed, for sediment storage capacity.

The city has played an active role in this project since its inception. Recently, incoming City Manager Dave Kiff and I traveled to Washington, D.C. to lobby for stimulus funds. The completion of this project is made possible by the granting of $17.3 million in funds under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA of 2009).

Sen. Dianne Feinstein secured the original authorization from the Senate to restore Newport Bay, and Congressman Ed Royce authored the House version. Congressman Ken Calvert is a strong supporter who pushed the appropriation forward as a member of the House Appropriations Committee. Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez is a strong supporter who supported the effort on the House floor. Former Congressman Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach) consistently supported funding for the project.

This major civil works project will be completed under the direction of Col. Thomas Magness IV, Commander, Los Angeles Region. The county will be taking over the long-term maintenance of Upper Newport Bay. The project was designed such that the next dredging event will not occur for another 21 years. The ongoing support of Sup. John Moorlach and the County Coastal Engineering Department is appreciated.


LESLIE DAIGLE is a member of the Newport Beach City Council.

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