Byline: Taylor Hill
NEWPORT BEACH — With precious time slipping away for Newport Harbor’s Lower Bay to be dredged at a steeply discounted rate, good news came from an unexpected source: Congress awarded the Army Corps of Engineers an additional $2 million in federal funding to be put toward harbor dredging.
“It’s unexpected, and it’s great news,” said former Newport Beach mayor and current city councilman Mike Henn.
The additional money brings the total funds allocated for the project to $7.5 million and allows the Corps of Engineers to move forward toward mobilization — without having to wait for Congress and Corps representatives in Washington, D.C. to approve an outlay of city funds to cover the cost of the first phase.
“That was creating the bottleneck: waiting for the Corps to sign off on allowing the city to put in $2.5 million, so the Corps could award the contract,” said Newport Beach Harbor Resources manager Chris Miller. “Now, they were able to get an additional $2 million coming into the project, which will now give the Corps enough money to award the base bid to the contractor and get him mobilized and working.”
Miller expects the extra money to come in by Feb. 17 and San Diego-based R.E. Staite Engineering to be awarded the contract within the next few weeks.
The project was expected to start in December 2011 following the completion of the $4 million Rhine Channel dredging project. However, it was delayed by the need for a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to be signed by the Corps and approved by Congress, allowing city funds to be used in coordination with federal funds for the project.
In turn, the delay had put the timeline for disposing of dredged material at the Port of Long Beach in jeopardy. A prior agreement allowed 120,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment unsuitable for ocean disposal marked to be used as landfill for the port’s Middle Harbor Project terminal expansion plans — but that material had to be delivered to meet the port’s construction schedule.
The current cutoff date for the sediment to be in Long Beach is March 14 — but Miller has spoken with Port of Long Beach officials, and said he believes an extension into June will work for both the port and Newport Beach.
Earlier this month, Newport Beach Mayor Nancy Gardner and Councilman Ed Selich voiced their concerns of potentially missing the opportunity to barge contaminated sediment to the Port of Long Beach, which would leave the city with no choice but to have it trucked to an inland landfill, at a much greater cost.
“We can’t let that window close,” Selich said at a Jan. 18 Tidelands Committee meeting. “If that material has to go to an inland landfill, we’re looking at a cost increase of four-to-one.”
The project is estimated to cost $7.8 million and will remove approximately 500,000 cubic yards of sediment from the Lower Bay. The project’s goal is to bring as many of the harbor’s main navigable waterways as possible to a depth of more than 11 feet. It will also remove approximately 80 percent of the harbor’s contaminated sediment in the process.
The project is divided into five phases:
1. Federal Project Components: covering the yacht anchorage area off Lido Isle, areas in the main navigational channel, the west end of Balboa Island and south side of Harbor Island.
2. Environmental Components: areas where sediment is unsuitable for ocean disposal including a portion of the Balboa Island Channel, in front of the Coast Guard docks, Lido Isle Reach north (in front of Balboa Bay Club), Newport Channel and West Lido Area.
3. Critical Navigation Components: Lido Isle Reach south, Balboa Island Channel, the west side of Collins Island and Newport Channel.
4. Other Permitted Components: Lido Isle Reach north (along Lido Isle), and the Newport Harbor Yacht Club anchorage area.
5. Potential Additional Components (not yet funded): Linda Isle Channel, Upper Bay Channel, to be determined.
While the additional funding means the project can now begin, Henn added that he is still on the lookout for additional funds to cover the $225,000 funding gap, and he brought the topic to the Feb. 14 City Council meeting to discuss allocating additional funds from the city to cover the remaining cost.
Henn is also looking for private funding for the additional components of the project, hoping that marine businesses, yacht clubs, boating groups and private citizens will chip in to fund areas not yet marked for dredging.
Harbor users are being encouraged to speak up regarding trouble areas in the harbor that are not outlined in the current project, and if possible to “bring their checkbooks” to help fund dredging of those areas.
Harbor Resources manager Chris Miller has been tasked with creating a list of trouble areas in the harbor, and a citizens’ steering committee is expected to be formed in March to help prioritize and identify additional areas needing dredging.
With the federal ($4.4 million), county ($675,000) and city ($2.5 million) funds coming in, Henn urged citizens to take notice.
“The public agencies are doing what they need to do here, and the boating and harbor community needs to really organize themselves to make this happen,” Henn said.