Byline: Taylor Hill
NEWPORT BEACH — A dredging mishap near Balboa Yacht Club’s docks resulted in 2,800 gallons of sewage spilled into harbor waters, as Balboa Island’s main sewer line was reported to be fractured by a clamshell dredge.
The spill occurred at 11 p.m. Aug. 15, as dredging company R.E. Staite was working on digging up the final portions of sediment along the Orange County Harbor Patrol docks and Balboa Yacht Club mooring field, marked for removal in the city’s Lower Bay dredging project.
As the clamshell dredge went for a scoop, it grabbed an 8-inch pipe that was the main sewer line for Balboa Island running to Bayside Drive, said Newport Beach Harbor Resources supervisor Shannon Levine.
“It was one of those things were they knew they were in the vicinity of the sewer line, and right as they made the decision to not go any further, they hit the line,” Levine said.
The dredge pulled up the line, causing the circa-1936 cast iron pipe to fracture and fissure, sending 2,800 gallons of raw sewage into the harbor. R.E. Staite contacted the city, which alerted emergency services and immediately issued bay water closures from the Balboa Island bridge to the Harbor Patrol docks, due to the sewage spill.
The team, with assistance from the Orange County Sanitation District and Irvine Ranch Water District, worked to open the bypass line next to the damaged mainline, but the old and rarely operated bypass valve malfunctioned, forcing the city to shut both lines down.
Harbor Resources manager Chris Miller said Vactor trucks were called in to transport the sewage from Balboa Island to a mainline for about 36 hours until the bypass valve was operational.
Over the next few days, divers worked to repair the fractured mainline, which had endured multiple fissures and fractures apart from the main break. During a pressure test Aug. 20, a test plug blew out of the line, leaking an additional 50 gallons of sewage into the harbor before the line was shut down again. A smaller area closure followed the second spill, running 100 yards in each direction from the sewer pipe.
Michael Fennessy of Orange County Health Care Agency said that bacteriological tests were conducted following both spills. Fecal contamination was indicated in a large portion of the closure area following the larger spill Aug. 15, but subsequent harbor tests Aug. 17 and 18 met water quality standards, allowing the site to be reopened to the public. The 50-gallon spill Aug. 20 resulted in closures, with tests the following two days showing that the area met water quality standards, as well.
At press time, the beach and bay water closures had been lifted, and the sewer mainline was back in working order. As for the remaining dredging, Levine said the team is nearly finished with the Harbor Patrol and Balboa YC area section, and said the team will most likely steer clear of the sewer line area.
“While it was a mishap you never want to see, it did show us that there are two lines down there that we can now use intermittently, instead of relying on one,” Levine said.
Miller noted the speed with which R.E. Staite notified the city of the problem and its dedication to work all hours to help minimize the damage done.
With the sewer line operational, R.E. Staite, the city of Newport Beach, the Army Corps of Engineers and the county can go back to working toward completing the $10.5 million Lower Bay Dredging project removing more than 500,000 cubic yards of sediment from the harbor, along with 90,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment.
So far, only 2,850 cubic yards of contaminated sediment remains in the harbor, along with approximately 200,000 cubic yards of clean sediment left to be removed. Once completed, Newport Harbor will have approximately 90 percent of its unsuitable for ocean disposal material removed from the bay, and more navigable waterways for deep-draft vessels.
Updates on Lower Bay Dredging
• The Coast Guard/Harbor Patrol/Balboa Yacht Club area is nearly complete. Surveys have been performed, but not fully analyzed. It is possible that R.E. Staite may need to return for some minor cleanup work. This is also true for the small area in the “A” mooring field.
• The area between Lido Isle and the peninsula is also complete. R.E. Staite had to return to clean up some smaller high spots left behind during dredging last month, and it is now waiting for the final survey to verify this work has been done.
• The final Phase I scow full of dredged material was delivered to the Port of Long Beach’s fill site Aug. 15. The project is 99 percent complete with its contaminated material, having delivered about 110,000 cubic yards of sediment to Long Beach’s Middle Harbor fill site. Without the Port of Long Beach’s Contained Aquatic Disposal site, the Lower Bay dredging project would have left critical high spots exposed. The remaining 1 percent of Long Beach-bound material — about 1,250 cubic yards — will be delivered as part of Phase 2.
• The main channel area between Balboa Island and Balboa Peninsula has been finished, and surveying is being conducted to make sure work in the area is completed.
• R.E. Staite is now focusing on the area between Balboa Island and Bayside Drive, west of the Balboa Island bridge. Cleanup work is wrapping up, and Miller said he hopes to reinstall the “D” mooring field as quickly as possible.
• After that, the focus will be on completing Phase 1 of the project, with the highest priority to complete the Newport Harbor Yacht Club and “F” mooring field area, but that will have to occur during Phase 2.
• Phase 2 is very close to being awarded by the Army Corps of Engineers. The city is awaiting its acceptance of an additional $4.5 million to be used toward expanded dredging, and Miller expects the Corps to sign off on the contract by early September.