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Lack of Dredging Rouses Fears Over Harbor Safety

Times Staff Writer

Ventura County officials, concerned that plans to dredge Channel Islands Harbor probably will fall through for the first time in more than 25 years, fear their picturesque harbor could quickly turn into a deathtrap if winter storms heap too much sand at its entrance.

“There will be a potential . . . for people getting killed,” said Frank Anderson, who manages the county facility.

Since the harbor was built in the early 1960s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers every 2 years has pumped about 2 million cubic yards of sand from the mouth of Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard. The sand has been deposited at Silver Strand and Hueneme beaches, which are farther down the coast.

The dredging reduces underwater sand banks, which could create dangerous swells and cause boats to run aground. It replenishes eroded beaches flanking the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Test Center at Point Mugu.

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Last year, the Corps decided that dredging Channel Islands Harbor should give way to more important projects nationwide. Corps officials declined this week to identify those projects. But county officials said that the Corps gives priority to harbors with large commercial fishing facilities, which Channel Islands Harbor lacks.

Unless the Corps changes its stance by mid-January, a host of environmental restrictions that would probably preclude dredging until the fall will be applied to the $3.6-million dredging project, county and Corps officials said.

“I guess we just thought the money automatically was going to come,” said Ventura County Supervisor John Flynn, who plans to go to Washington in March to lobby for federal funds that might become available by year’s end.

“We’re into our third year without dredging and it’s urgent that we get some assistance,” Flynn said.

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Channel Islands Harbor boating scene observers concur.

Dave Lawrence of Newmark’s Yacht Sales said that “from where I sit in my office, I’ve seen two boats get stuck and go aground in the sand.” Harbor officials confirmed Lawrence’s observation.

And Kent Jones, who docks a 25-foot boat in the harbor, said sand left by recent storms has “created a beach that never used to be there” in front of a neighborhood bar fronting the harbor.

How did the dredging plans run so far aground?

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County officials said the Corps failed to include the harbor in its appropriations request for fiscal 1988-89.

“It’s our position that it’s the Corps’ responsibility to dredge,” said Blake Boyle, deputy director of the county’s General Services Agency.

Neil Cole, the Corps project manager for Channel Islands Harbor, would not discuss the harbor’s exclusion. But he said that “you have limited funds and you have to prioritize your projects.”

He added that the Corps will probably include Channel Islands Harbor in its 1989-90 funding request. If approved, the money would become available by the end of 1989, Cole said.

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Roger Honberger, Ventura County’s Washington lobbyist, said county officials didn’t notify him about the problem until last spring, when it was too late.

“We heard about it after the appropriations committee had made up their list . . . of projects,” Honberger said.

Although Congress may pass a supplemental bill this February to allocate more money, the allocations would go to projects that constitute “very extreme emergencies” and it is unlikely that Channel Islands Harbor would qualify, despite the obvious need, Honberger said.

The Corps might allocate money from its general fund to dredge the harbor, Cole said.

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“If we don’t hear by the middle of January whether there’s internal funding available, we’d have to wait until Sept. 1,” he said.

It takes the county about 60 days to subcontract the dredging project and complete the paper work. Dredging requires permits from agencies such as the California Coastal Commission and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. The latter discourages dredging between March 1 and September because the sand movement disturbs the spawning of grunion, the sardine-like fish found along the California coast.


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