Byline: Taylor Hill
NEWPORT BEACH — Newport Beach’s Linda Isle, a 107-home community developed on Newport Harbor in 1967, is looking for its lagoon to be dredged.
The discussion was brought to the Newport Beach Tidelands Committee in March. Linda Isle Homeowners Association president Donna Vianna presented a detailed report on the history of the 7.8-acre body of water developed at the center of the community, that leads out into Newport Harbor’s lower bay.
Originally dredged at 10 feet, the lagoon has become inundated with sediment over the years. A large increase in sediment occurred after the dredging of Upper Newport Bay.
Vianna said she believes the city should take some of the responsibility for filling up Linda Isle’s lagoon.
“In the lagoon’s first 37 years, only 10,000 cubic yards of sediment built up and needed removal,” Vianna told the committee. “But when extensive public dredging was done in the Back Bay, Linda Isle Lagoon received a 500 percent increase in silt, with the number now reaching 42,000 cubic yards in need of removal.
“We are the first stop under the bridge,” she said. “ It’s not a coincidence that this area became shallower right when the dredging started in the Upper Bay area.”
Additionally, the lagoon has eelgrass, meaning any dredging to be done in the lagoon would require eelgrass mitigation measures to replant 1.2 times the amount lost in dredging and monitor the plants’ survival — a costly endeavor.
Currently, the homeowner’s association has around $400,000 in reserves set aside for dredging, but Vianna said the total estimated cost of dredging — if the association attempted to take on the project by itself — would run around $1.6 million.
With the city and Army Corps of Engineers currently working in the harbor on dredging more than 500,000 cubic yards of sediment — and a dredging project planned at West Newport’s Seminouk Slough in the near future, as well –Vianna said having the lagoon dredging piggybacked onto these projects could greatly reduce the cost.
Mobilization costs for dredging equipment would be lessened, and Vianna estimated the cost of a joint project between the Linda Isle Homeowners Association and the city to cost around $1 million.
On top of that, Vianna discussed the possibility that the lagoon could be gifted to the city, which would give the city of Newport Beach sole ownership of the waterway. It is currently a private common area owned by Linda Isle, with public access.
In addition, Vianna said that the eelgrass currently located in the lagoon could be used as a sort of “eelgrass bank” for the city to include in its baseline measure of local eelgrass.
Over the past few years, Newport Beach Harbor Resources staff has been working to develop a baseline eelgrass amount for the harbor that environmental resource agencies would have to sign off on, which would allow for eelgrass to be dredged in the harbor without mitigation measures afterward. The plan would mean that, as long as a certain amount of eelgrass was thriving in the harbor, dredging of eelgrass could be done without pricey mitigation measures.
Vianna noted that an “underwater island” of eelgrass could be left undredged in the center of the lagoon, and it could be used to offset future dredging of eelgrass.
But, at a follow-up Tidelands Committee meeting May 16, many of the positives Linda Isle Homeowners Association members were hoping the city would see in teaming up to dredge the lagoon were questioned.
First, city attorney Aaron Harp noted that while the waterway was privately held, the Supreme Court case Kaiser Aetna v. United States ruled that no navigable waterway can be deny public access, ensuring that Linda Isle residents would not be able to deny access to the waterway.
Second, the “eelgrass bank’s” benefit to the city’s baseline number was not known at the time of the meeting, since the program for the harbor has not yet been implemented, and it might not be useable in the eelgrass plan moving forward.
The situation has left Linda Isle residents with the responsibility to dredge the lagoon, the inability to deny public access to the waterway and a reluctance from city officials to put public money toward the project.
One option discussed during the meeting was a 50/50 split of dredging costs between the city and the Linda Isle residents, with a cap on city responsibility set at $500,000.
“Right now, I don’t see a clear public benefit to it,” said Newport Beach mayor and Tidelands Committee member Nancy Gardner. “At this point, I’m not sold. If what the city attorney says is true, and we already have access — and that’s the biggest public benefit.”
Councilman Ed Selich, whose district includes Linda Isle, noted that if the cost could be brought below the $1 million mark, it might be worth getting the lagoon dredged.
“Linda Isle needs to have a plan and something they can work toward,” Selich said “Whether that’s dredging in 2013 or 2014, they need something so they can go back and vote on, and figure out if they want an eelgrass island or not. But they do need some indication from us as far as how much we’re (the city is) going to participate.”
Committee chairman Mike Henn said updated figures on what it would cost to dredge the lagoon were needed, along with sediment testing to make sure the lagoon is free of pollutants that would make for costly sediment disposal.
“We need to know whether the eelgrass can help us, and it seems to me we have time to understand this a little better,” Henn said.
The topic was expected to be reviewed again at a future Tidelands Committee meeting. If the committee approves a dredging project, the matter would be presented to city council for funding to be allocated.