Newport Harbor dredging threatened

Private donations have been sought to fund project, but some voters think government should foot the bill.

January 28, 2012|By Mike Reicher
  • Crew members wait for the tide to rise after their 49-foot racing boat "It's OK" struck a sandbar near the Balboa Yacht Club.
Crew members wait for the tide to rise after their 49-foot… (Glenn Highland )

NEWPORT BEACH — As the city embarks on dredging long-neglected areas of the harbor, required federal funding and approvals may not materialize before a critical deadline.

The obstacles threaten the city's first significant harbor dredging in more than 75 years, when the bay's sandbars were originally scooped out. Today, boaters often get stuck on shoals or can't leave their berths on low tide.

If harbor officials can't get the $6.9-million project launched before mid-March, they risk losing landfill space at the Port of Long Beach and would have to spend millions more to dump polluted dirt inland.

"It's something that I'm working on and I'm very concerned about," Harbor Resources Manager Chris Miller said at last week's Tidelands Management Committee meeting. "We're doing everything that we can."

City leaders and lobbyists are pressing contacts in the Army Corps of Engineers and Congress.

But federal resource management officials are still reviewing the project, said Christopher Bognanno, spokesman for Rep. John Campbell (R-Newport Beach).


The plans also have to be authorized by Congress, he added, and the timeline is uncertain.

Council members have suggested they declare an emergency, which could allow the city to act alone.

"We need to be very creative," Mayor Nancy Gardner said, "and be willing to take some risks."


Donations for dredging

Councilman Mike Henn has turned to individuals to raise funds for the project, which would target areas around the eastern end of Lido Isle, north of Balboa Island and other channels.

But since the City Council approved Henn's idea of private donations in mid-December, he hasn't received any checks.

"I'm sounding out various constituencies in the harbor," Henn said last week, "to try and make an assessment about how much enthusiasm there is for private donations for the project."

But some boaters — even those who could directly benefit from dredging — say that the government should cover the costs.

"If private donations do it this time," asked Gary Hill, whose tugboat runs aground, "then who's going to keep it going?"

Hill owns the William B., a 77-foot tug converted for recreational use that is moored between Bay Island and Lido Isle. Any time there is a low tide of 1 foot or less, he says the ship is stuck.

Even if he were to give, Hill's boat sits in an area low on the city's priority list. The most shallow and publicly trafficked areas were prioritized, as were contaminated spots.

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