City could consider options to remove sunken scow

NEWPORT BEACH — Help could be on the way for Shellmaker, a local marine contractor whose barge is currently submerged at the bottom of Newport Harbor.

Shellmaker has been trying to raise Gemini from below water ever since the scow sank in July 2013. The owners did not have insurance on Gemini when she sank.

There have been complaints from harbor users about the submerged barge being an eyesore and a navigational hazard.

Lisa Miller, who currently owns Gemini through Shellmaker, took full responsibility for the barge’s current condition. It was Miller’s father who brought Gemini to Newport Harbor with hopes of having a serviceable barge in the bay for boaters. Gemini was intended to be used as a disposal scow for small residential dredging projects

“In hindsight, I should have just dumped it,” Miller told the Newport Beach’s Harbor Commission at a recent meeting. “I’m just trying to get back to work. Mea culpa, I’m sorry. It’s been a wrong move since day one.”

The Harbor Commission indicated the city of Newport Beach could help Miller, though financing the salvage of Gemini will not be easy.

State grants for derelict boats are not available to bring Gemini up to the water’s surface. The Vessel Turn-In Program (VTIP) and Abandoned Watercraft Abatement Fund (AWAF) are reserved for recreational vessels. Gemini is considered a commercial vessel.

Miller, who reportedly spent about $40,000 attempting to salvage Gemini, told commissioners she did not have any funds available to lift the submerged barge and bring her ashore. A boater who attended the Harbor Commission’s April 8 meeting suggested Miller contact CalRecycle to see if they would be willing to assist her in raising Gemini.

Two private marine contractors were also suggested to Miller, including one scheduled to begin work on the harbor’s newest project, Marina Park. Miller informed commissioners she has a positive relationship with one of the contractors and might seek some form of assistance from them.

Harbor Commission Chair Brad Avery suggested a cooperative approach to raising and salvaging Gemini.

“We need to do everything we can to help,” Avery said, adding the city should take the lead in developing a plan.

It is unclear how much a salvage would cost Newport Beach and how the city would cover the expense. Just the same, it is also unclear whether Miller or Shellmaker would ever be held financially responsible for salvaging Gemini.

“It is an expensive process to raise and remove,” Harbor Resources Manager Chris Miller said. “I think there is a solution somewhere.”

Shellmaker was listed as an agent on several applications submitted in recent years to the California Coastal Commission to demolish bulkheads and docks in Newport Harbor.

Gemini is currently at mooring J-98 in Newport Harbor.

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