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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

Federal funds were allocated to the critical zones, including the city's anchorage.

Other permitted places are the middle of the channel between the Balboa Peninsula and Balboa Island; the area along the south edge of the Balboa Bay Club & Resort; and the area around the Coast Guard station.

Some boaters have questioned if donors would get their preferred areas dredged first.

City spokeswoman Tara Finnigan said that all of the money would be kept in the same "pot," and the dredging would proceed in the order of priority, regardless of who gives donations.

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That leaves city leaders in a predicament. Unlike the Upper Newport Bay, which is used mainly by local wildlife and draws broad support, the lower bay is a cauldron of interests tied to more specific locations.

Homeowners on Linda Isle, for instance, are hemmed in by some of the most shallow parts of the bay.

Still, a navigable harbor theoretically benefits all: property values, tour boat operators, bayfront restaurants and, ultimately, municipal coffers.

"Yes, it's nice to contribute something that benefits your backyard," Miller said. "But it'd be a benefit to everybody … we're all in the harbor together — swimming, fishing, sailing, etc."

Historically, the city's revenues gained from leasing waterfront land, and harbor permits fall well short of its maintenance costs, including dredging. Also, federal officials view the site as a pleasure harbor, not a working waterway, so it falls low on the federal government's priority list.

Officials say they are appealing to peoples' sense of civic duty.

As the city scraps together funds and approvals, the Port of Long Beach is relying on Newport's contaminated sediment to use as landfill on its major construction site. Port and city officials agreed on a March 14 deadline.

Newport cannot begin dredging without the Army corps because the project is permitted under federal guidelines.

What's more, the Army corps has a holdup in the bidding process, Miller says. The low bidder on the project, DDM Crane and Rigging, failed to meet the small-business contracting requirements.

That company is affiliated with Dutra Dredging, the group that recently completed the Rhine Channel and still has its equipment in the harbor. A new dredging outfit will take even more time to get its barges and cranes into place.

Miller said there's a chance they could exceed the Long Beach date, but he was not sure.

mike.reicher@latimes.com

Twitter: @mreicher

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