Dredging project likely to wipe away 'dog beach,' at least for a while

A planned dredging project along the Santa Ana River is expected to remove the sand bar at the mouth of the river near Newport Beach that is known to many as an unofficial dog beach.

However, Orange County officials say the sand won't be gone forever.

The county project, which has been in the works for more than a year, is meant to clear sand from the river bed and move it to nearby beaches in an effort to prevent the river from flooding during storms, said Nardy Khan, interim deputy director for Orange County Public Works.

Dredging the area also should improve tidal flow, enabling the river to move water into the ocean, as it was originally designed, officials said.

County staff presented the project to the Newport Beach City Council during a June 28 study session where they acknowledged that dredging the area likely will remove, at least temporarily, the place known to locals as a dog beach. Although it is not officially designated as such, the sand bar at the mouth of the river has long been a popular spot for people to let their dogs run off leash.

Past dredging projects indicate that tidal action will bring sand back to the mouth of the river, restoring the beach, but officials said it is unclear how long it might take. Khan estimated weeks or months.

"It really depends on the tides and how fast the sand moves," she said.

Dredging could begin by late summer and last into May, county officials estimated.

About a million yards of beach-quality sand is proposed to be removed from about 31/2 miles of the Santa Ana River between Adams Avenue and the mouth of the river, which straddles the border of Newport Beach and Huntington Beach.

The dredged sand would be placed along the shore in West Newport, Balboa Island and China Cove. Surfside and pocket beaches in Huntington Harbour also are expected to receive some sand.

"It has come to our attention that the [river] has been impacted from sand deposits. We need to restore that [flow] capacity," Khan said during the June study session. "It's also very important to nourish our beaches and protect properties that have those beachfront amenities."

The Orange County Board of Supervisors in March signed off on a $363,557 contract with CJW Construction for the design phase of the project. The California Coastal Commission is expected to consider the project during its meeting Thursday in San Diego.

The Santa Ana River area has received significant attention in the past several months from county and Newport Beach officials, as well as nearby homeowners and those who frequent the area with their dogs.

The issue of leash laws came to the forefront late last year after Newport Beach Mayor Diane Dixon said she was fielding complaints from nearby homeowners about unleashed dogs and unremoved dog waste.

In response, the city conducted an online survey to determine whether Newport residents would favor the city enforcing county leash laws at that beach. Hundreds of people responded, with the majority asking the city to leave the area alone.

In March, after two hours of passionate testimony from dog owners who frequent the spot, Newport's Parks, Beaches and Recreation Commission voted unanimously to reject a proposal to have city animal-control officers enforce leash restrictions there. The commission instead suggested the county look into designating the area as an official dog beach.

Dixon, city staff, dog beach advocates and county Supervisor Michelle Steel, whose district includes Newport Beach, began working on a proposal to that effect.

An ordinance to designate the area as the first legal dog beach on county land passed the Board of Supervisors' first reading but stalled in May over concerns from two environmental groups that having unleashed canines in the area could harm two at-risk bird species.

Michelle Cook, communications director for Steel, said at the time that county staff was looking into the groups' concerns and had not yet made a determination about the possible environmental effects of allowing dogs in the area.

Cook could not be reached for comment Thursday.

County staff estimated in May that the issue would return to the Board of Supervisors on July 26.

Mike Glenn, a Newport Beach City Council candidate and dog beach advocate, said the dredging project is important to maintain the flow of the Santa Ana River and that he doesn't expect it to have a lasting effect on the viability of a dog beach in the area.

"For a little bit dogs aren't going to have a beach, but when the sand comes back, dog beach will just be a little smaller," he said.

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