Pete Stewart has seen environmental reforms come and go in the 30 years he has owned and operated the South Coast Shipyard in lower Newport Bay.
Next week, he will begin work to strip off the toxic copper-based paint from the hull of a boat and replace it with a new, silicone-based paint that is more friendly to the environment.
The switch to non-copper paints is part of the latest wave of “green” efforts by Newport Beach and a local advocacy group to clean up coastal waters.
“It’s all trial and test to see what method works,” Stewart said of Newport’s long history in trying to reduce the boating community’s use of toxic paints. “If it’s shown to work and it’s a suitable replacement, then that’s what will be used.”
However, Stewart said, he doesn’t know whether the newly designed paints will catch on. This will be the first boat he’s painted with one of them.
The City Council hopes that these paints will become common within the next few years in order to help protect the bay from future copper deposits, City Manager David Kiff said.
Earlier this month, the council endorsed a partnership with the advocacy group Orange County Coastkeeper in implementing an incentive an education program called the Newport Bay Copper Reduction Project.
While Coastkeeper has been spearheading the project since last year with the aid of a $240,000 in federal grant money, the city’s endorsement further validates the program, Coastkeeper Executive Director Ray Hiemstra said.
Every year, copper-based paints deposit between 25,000 and 50,000 pounds of the element into Newport Bay, which is toxic to marine life, Hiemstra said.
Historically, ablative paints with lead, zinc and more recently copper, have been used to prevent marine life from sticking to the hull of a ship and causing a slew of problems, Hiemstra said.
While copper is less toxic that previously used materials, it is still causing massive damage to the bay’s natural ecosystem, he explained.
The copper reduction program is mostly education and outreach. It depends on environmentally minded boaters helping to spread the message put out by Hiemstra.
For the roughly 160 boats anchored in the Balboa Yacht Basin, the program has an $80,000 budget to provide financial incentives for boat owners who switch over to nontoxic paint.
That’s because the basin was selected as the program’s initial pilot area for its high levels of copper in the water relative to other areas of the Newport Bay, Hiemstra said.
While Coastalkeeper won’t pay the entire cost of painting a boat with nontoxic paint, the incentive should help, Hiemstra said.
However, the cost may be more than the boat owners from the rest of Newport Bay are willing to spend.
The application of the new types of nontoxic paint require that the existing layer of copper paint first be stripped from the bottom of the boat — a job that than can cost up to $4,000, Stewart said.
“This is going to help the environment, but hurt the boat owner’s pocket,” he said. “It’s going to be a real arm-twister to get rid of copper paints.”
However, if you work out the math, Hiemstra said, the boat owner will actually break even in six to eight years, or even turn a profit from changing paints.
Copper paint needs to be reapplied about every two years and scrapped every eight to 10 years, while the silicone-based paints can last a decade before needing a new coat.
Although, the duration of silicone-based paints past eight years has not yet been tested, he said. So far, only five boats in Newport Harbor that he knows of have made the switch from copper-based to non-copper paints.
A second nontoxic option are epoxy-based paints. These paints are incredibly hard and can easily withstand routine cleanings, Hiemstra said, while the silicone-based paints are so slick that there won’t be much cleaning necessary in the first place.
“For someone who isn’t ready to scrape, then it’s an added expense,” Hiemstra said. “But for someone who is ready, it makes a whole lot of financial sense and a lot of people are beginning to realize that.”
Heimstra hopes to see copper-painted boat bottoms cycle out as boat owners choose nontoxic paints, when they bring their boats in to be serviced by shipyards, he said.
The process may be made a little more difficult for boaters who are used to doing things a certain way for a long time, Stewart said.
“Let’s put it this way: If you were used to buying a hotdog for a dollar and suddenly you were told that it was now five dollars, how would you feel?”