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The Harbor Report: The eelgrass is greener with state blessing

January 24, 2013|By Len Bose

This week's column should be titled "Eelgrass for Dummies" — because the topic has been a sticking point around the harbor for years, and we all have to understand it better if we ever want to obtain dredging permits for our docks.

In my column dated Jan. 11, I discussed Regional General Permit 54, which helps residents acquire a dredging permit without going through all the sediment-testing and agency negotiations. I should also point out again how lucky we are to have Doug West as our Harbor Commission chairman and Chris Miller as our harbor resources manager leading us to the goal line.

To continue with the football analogy, I see the harbor in the red zone at first and goal. The goal is to receive a Newport Harbor amendment from the National Marine Fisheries Service's Southern California office, which will allow us a "Newport Specific Plan" that will supersede the Southern California eelgrass mitigation plan, then blend this plan into our RGP 54 permit for April 2014.

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I lost you, didn't I? The problem now with our RGP is that most people cannot use it because of the cost of the mitigation of the eelgrass under their docks. What our harbor commissioners and resource team are proposing is the "Newport Specific Eelgrass Plan" that will manage eelgrass on a harbor-wide basis, manage thresholds for total eelgrass population and reduce the burden for individual mitigation.

This means if we can grow 19.6 acres of shallow-water eelgrass, from our bulkheads to the end of our docks, we can impact 1.5 acres a year. I do not recall the exact average amount of eelgrass under impacted slips, but I recall something like a couple of square yards per dock. The last harbor eelgrass survey showed that we have more than 15.45 acres of shallow-water eelgrass at this time.

Within the next couple of weeks, Miller and West will be meeting with the National Marine Fisheries Service and selling this plan to them. If they can make the sale, it is my understanding that most of the other agencies will fall in line and we could just end up with a usable RGP by March of next year. So the next time you see West or Miller, make sure they understand we are all behind them.

Reader Harry Crowell recently sent me a list of questions regarding eelgrass, and I passed those questions off to Mike Josselyn of WRA Environmental Consultants. Here are those questions, with Josselyn's answers.

Crowell: Can you explain exactly why this eelgrass is becoming so important?

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