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Push for 'green' paint

Silicon-based boat paint is less toxic for marine life than its copper-based counterpart, but it's also more expensive.

June 18, 2010|By Sarah Peters, sarah.peters@latimes.com
(Don Leach )

Pete Stewart has seen environmental reforms come and go in the 30 years he has owned and operated the South Coast Shipyard in lower Newport Bay.

Next week, he will begin work to strip off the toxic copper-based paint from the hull of a boat and replace it with a new, silicone-based paint that is more friendly to the environment.

The switch to non-copper paints is part of the latest wave of "green" efforts by Newport Beach and a local advocacy group to clean up coastal waters.

"It's all trial and test to see what method works," Stewart said of Newport's long history in trying to reduce the boating community's use of toxic paints. "If it's shown to work and it's a suitable replacement, then that's what will be used."

However, Stewart said, he doesn't know whether the newly designed paints will catch on. This will be the first boat he's painted with one of them.

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The City Council hopes that these paints will become common within the next few years in order to help protect the bay from future copper deposits, City Manager David Kiff said.

Earlier this month, the council endorsed a partnership with the advocacy group Orange County Coastkeeper in implementing an incentive an education program called the Newport Bay Copper Reduction Project.

While Coastkeeper has been spearheading the project since last year with the aid of a $240,000 in federal grant money, the city's endorsement further validates the program, Coastkeeper Executive Director Ray Hiemstra said.

Every year, copper-based paints deposit between 25,000 and 50,000 pounds of the element into Newport Bay, which is toxic to marine life, Hiemstra said.

Historically, ablative paints with lead, zinc and more recently copper, have been used to prevent marine life from sticking to the hull of a ship and causing a slew of problems, Hiemstra said.

While copper is less toxic that previously used materials, it is still causing massive damage to the bay's natural ecosystem, he explained.

The copper reduction program is mostly education and outreach. It depends on environmentally minded boaters helping to spread the message put out by Hiemstra.

For the roughly 160 boats anchored in the Balboa Yacht Basin, the program has an $80,000 budget to provide financial incentives for boat owners who switch over to nontoxic paint.

That's because the basin was selected as the program's initial pilot area for its high levels of copper in the water relative to other areas of the Newport Bay, Hiemstra said.

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