Newport Beach City Council continues investigation of alternatives to dredging disposal

View of Newport Harbor from Hoag Hospital.
A view of Newport Harbor from Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach on May 15, 2020.
(Raul Roa )

Discussion on the confined aquatic dredged disposal (CAD) site in Newport Harbor returned to the Newport Beach City Council dais again Tuesday, months after council members passed the plan.

The city first looked into the construction of such a disposal site in 2019 after mercury-tainted sediment was discovered near the turning basin.

The City Council voted in May for the construction of the disposal site — essentially, just a deep hole — in lower Newport Harbor to hold non-ocean quality sediment materials generated by an upcoming dredging project of the federal channels.

At that meeting, the council voted to delegate the review of alternative community proposals to a Harbor Commission committee, which was given a 90-day period to make a recommendation.

A staff report prepared for Tuesday’s meeting noted the Harbor Commission reviewed an alternative proposal submitted by Team Luckey — headed by tech mogul Palmer Luckey, who lives on Lido Isle, and his team of consultants.

That proposal suggested moving the disposal site toward Jamboree and Bayview, adjacent to Fletcher Jones Motorcars dealership.

Two other areas were suggested, one within the footprint of the future hotel site at Newport Dunes in county-owned property, or in lower Castaways Park. The proposal also suggested putting the unwanted sediment materials onto the existing upper Castaways bluff and extending the bluff south toward Pacific Coast Highway bridge, using approximately half of the lower Castaways property.

The Harbor Commission unanimously voted in October to recommend the City Council reject Luckey’s proposal, according to city staff, and said that construction of the CAD would be the most viable and cost-effective solution.

Luckey told the City Council Tuesday it was his feeling the presentation he and his team made hadn’t been looked at neutrally. He requested the panel consider an independent analysis.

He also asked for more time before dismissal of any alternative plans, suggesting the state and other regulatory agencies might deny the proposal to establish the disposal site.

“I appreciate that there’s been a lot of time and a lot of money put into getting the funding for the CAD, getting the funding for the dredging in particular,” Luckey told the council. “I want the harbor to be dredged as much as anybody or more. I’m right there on the harbor. I really want it. The last thing that I want to do is delay things or slow things down.”

Luckey said if he was told his team’s plan was “totally unworkable....and it’s going to be this big monstrosity;
I’m gonna back off and I’ll say, ‘Man, I really wasted a lot of money trying to do what I thought was the right thing’ and you won’t ever hear about it from me again.”

Public works director Dave Webb said at least two of the sites suggested — the site toward Jamboree and Bayview and the one in the Newport Dunes — aren’t viable for such a project. The first site is a designated wetlands and the Newport Dunes site is owned by the county and would not be conducive to construction.

As far as lower Castaways, Webb said it was possible the work Luckey proposed was potentially not permittable due to existing flora on the site and restrictions of the local coastal program.

Discussion went back and forth between the council members on whether or not to continue investigating the possibilities of the plan. Mayor Kevin Muldoon asked if there was a contingency plan in the event that state and federal agencies reject the plan for the CAD. The city staff confirmed there was not.

Muldoon moved that the Team Luckey plan be reviewed parallel to submittal of the CAD plan to the regulatory agencies. The vote was 6-1 in favor of the motion, with Councilman Duffy Duffield voicing the lone dissenting vote.

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