Marina Dredging Stalled by Toxic Sediment : Pollution: Army Corps of Engineers says material may have to be dried and trucked to a landfill rather than dumped at sea.


A $1.7-million project to extensively dredge the entrance to Marina del Rey harbor has been delayed because the sediment there has been found to be contaminated with high levels of toxic metals.

Officials at the Army Corps of Engineers notified administrators at the county-owned marina Wednesday that they will not be able to dredge the channel until they conduct further tests to determine if the sediment can be dumped off the Palos Verdes Peninsula without harming marine life.

If not, the sandy material, which contains varying amounts of lead, copper, zinc, chromium, nickel and other contaminants, will have to be dried and hauled to a toxic waste site on land--a far more costly procedure.


Although Corps officials said they had not concluded that land disposal was necessary, Los Angeles County officials indicated that they fear such an outcome.

“There is a general opinion by the Corps that this material is of such quality that it probably will not be (suitable)” for offshore dumping, Larry Charness, chief of planning for the county Department of Beaches and Harbors, said Wednesday at a meeting of the county Small Craft Harbor Commission.

Charness warned, however, that it will be “very problematic and very costly” to transfer the polluted sediment to a toxic landfill site.

He said later that 320,000 cubic yards of “really putrid material” would have to dredged, placed on land and dried in the sun before it could be taken to a toxic dump. Finding a location near the marina to dry out the sediment would be difficult, Charness said, adding that a public beach would not be suitable.

The environmental group Heal the Bay warned that ocean dumping of the pollutant-laden sediment would be “completely inappropriate.”

The underwater dump site run by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is about five miles south of Point Fermin in the San Pedro Channel.


Mark Gold, staff scientist for Heal the Bay, said the “Marina del Rey area is the most toxic hot spot in Santa Monica Bay” except for a waste water outfall off Palos Verdes Peninsula where the pesticide DDT was dumped years ago.

The Corps formally notified the county Wednesday that federal funding for the dredging project had been withdrawn because a contract for work cannot be awarded before Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal year.

Unless the county can successfully lobby for a special appropriation, Charness said, the dredging is not likely to take place until at least late 1993.

That could pose problems for boaters. Already, shoals are developing at the south entrance to the marina channel, prompting the posting of buoys warning of shallow water. The channel’s depth has been reduced from 16 feet to 10 or 12 feet in some locations.

Commissioner Herbert Strickstein warned that boaters are going to blame the county if the buildup of sediment restricts the entrance to the marina channel. “There is going to be a lot of finger-pointing . . . that something was not done soon enough,” Strickstein said.

The precise source of the pollutants in the sediment is unknown.

County officials blame the toxic problem on industrial pollution that originates outside the county-owned marina. “We’re not an industrial area,” Charness said. “Like much of Santa Monica Bay, we’re simply the recipient of much of that material which comes out of Ballona Creek.”

Heal the Bay’s Gold agreed that much of the pollution was coming from Ballona Creek. The mouth of the creek, the largest storm drain entering Santa Monica Bay, is immediately south of the harbor channel.

“A lot of the heavy metals come from urban runoff,” Gold said. Used motor oil, for example, contains a significant amount of lead, he noted.

Gold also said he thought some of the pollution came from smaller storm drains that feed directly into the marina from the surrounding industrial area.

The president of the largest boat owners association in Marina del Rey, meanwhile, called on the county to take immediate action to improve the marina’s water quality. Jack Woods, of the Pioneer Skippers Boat Owners Assn., said efforts should include diverting storm drains from the marina, holding toxic waste roundups, providing facilities to recycle boat engine oil and building more pump stations to handle waste water from vessel holding tanks.