LONG BEACH : Corps of Engineers to Dredge River Mouth

After weeks of pleading by city officials, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has decided to remove massive amounts of sand and silt that were deposited at the mouth of the Los Angeles River during last month's storms.

The storm runoff virtually sealed off Queensway Landing, a small harbor at the river mouth that housed ships operated by Catalina Cruises.

Under the corps' timetable, a dredging contractor will be hired by Wednesday and work around the clock to reopen the channel by the end of the month. The project calls for 150,000 cubic yards of material to be removed.

The corps' decision to pay for the dredging takes Long Beach taxpayers off the hook for $2.5 million and gives Catalina Cruises Inc. hope of resuming full service by March 1.

Three weeks ago, the City Council allocated $2.5 million to dredge the waterway. While seeking the necessary permits, city officials also asked the federal agency to step in. The Corps of Engineers initially refused, saying the buildup of sand and silt did not jeopardize boaters. The agency changed its position after the city cited the hardships for Catalina Cruises.

The company's four ships, which usually carry hundreds of passengers daily to Catalina Island and to watch migrating whales, were idled Jan. 11. The company eventually managed to move three of the ships out of the harbor during high tides.

Catalina Cruises began running whale-watching tours out of the Downtown Marina last week, but regular service to the island has not been restored.

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