Protesters oppose construction of disposal site in Newport Harbor
The Friends of Newport Harbor said they are not being heard.
Members of the group gathered at the corner of Marguerite and 5th avenues Tuesday night before marching to Newport Beach City Hall to ask the City Council to delay an application submitted to the state Coastal Commission for the construction of a confined aquatic dredged disposal site in lower Newport Harbor.
Instead, as the matter was not on the evening’s agenda, council members took no action.
The harbor, one of the largest recreational harbors in the country, must be dredged regularly to remove sediment that would otherwise impede its navigation by vessels. It was partially dredged in 2012-13.
City Council discussions of the confined disposal site — also known by the acronym CAD — date to 2019, after mercury-tainted sediment was found near the turning basin and near Lido Peninsula. The proposed CAD, with dimensions of 590 feet by 590 feet, would be located between Bay Island, Lido Isle and Harbor Island.
It would hold roughly 112,500 cubic yards of dredged material from the federal channels deemed unsuitable for open ocean release. The size of the CAD would allow for an additional 50,000 cubic yards of material from routine maintenance dredging outside of those channels.
The harbor ranges in depth from 10 to 20 feet. The top of the proposed CAD would be at a depth of roughly 22 feet.
As proposed, the 112,500 cubic yards of sediment will be put at the bottom of the hole, then capped with 1 foot of sand for approximately two years. Then, once the remaining 50,000 cubic yards of sediment is dredged, the material will be deposited on top of the first layer and capped with 3 feet of sand.
Its construction will close an existing anchorage in the harbor for a couple of years. City staff said they would direct traffic to another anchorage on the western side of Lido Isle.
The City Council voted to submit the proposal to the Coastal Commission in May 2021. The application was initially up for review this September but was postponed to the state agency’s October meeting.
Shana Conzelman, volunteer director of community outreach for Friends of Newport Harbor, said members of the advocacy group hoped that by speaking up at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting they could convince council members to pull their application before state review, allowing the project’s opponents to talk with the Coastal Commission and review the application more carefully.
Conzelman said the organization — spearheaded by tech mogul Palmer Luckey, who with his team presented an alternative plan to council members in January — hoped the Coastal Commission would dismiss the project altogether at the upcoming October review.
“We originally came in [saying] we were not OK with this plan about four years ago. We were basically ignored and pushed aside, and they restructured their verbiage every time something came up,” said Conzelman. “We’ve tried to take the high road because we wanted to work alongside with the city and we offered to present a better alternative.”
City staff confirmed they reached out to Conzelman and other residents during the initial outreach for the environmental impact report four years ago. That report was approved last May.
Conzelman said the city agreed to grant them that opportunity, but the Friends of Newport Harbor were unable to “properly present” their alternative to the city staff’s proposal at an October 2021 hearing with the Harbor Commission. Three alternate areas for the sediment placement proposed by the organization were deemed implausible by city staff.
Luckey said he felt his January presentation hadn’t been looked at neutrally and requested an independent analysis.
Conzelman said the Friends of Newport Harbor are in favor of dredging, which she said needs to happen whether or not the disposal site is installed. They are worried about the environmental safety of a CAD, but city staff maintain it is the most viable and economic way to dispose of that waste.
Public works manager Chris Miller said Wednesday that city staff have tested the sediment, modeled the disposal site and all needed tests have been submitted to the proper agencies.
“This is a project that is taking care of legacy material in our harbor that really hasn’t been dredged thoroughly since the harbor was built,” Miller said. “We’ve had sediment issues coming down through our watershed into the upper bay and the lower bay. Over the past 20 years, our watershed partners have done an excellent job of controlling sediment that comes down from the upper reaches of our watershed.”
Miller said the installation of the CAD does not mean the end of all dredging in Newport Harbor. The entrance channel will continue to need to be dredged, he said, and the possibility of spot-by-spot dredging remains, but nothing quite on the scale of what now needs to be done in the harbor will be required.
Conzelman and other members of Friends of Newport Harbor were disappointed but not surprised that the City Council took no action on their request Tuesday night.
“For us, we’re not giving up. That I know for sure. We’ve lawyered up and we did not want to have to do that,” Conzelman said. “In our opinion, their perspective on putting a CAD in our recreational and residential harbor that does not have an ocean flow ... We’re an enclosed harbor. It’s just wrong. It’s not right for the people who visit or the ones that live here.”
Conzelman said the group would head to San Diego to attend the Coastal Commission’s meeting in October to voice their opposition to the proposed Newport Harbor CAD.
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