Newport Beach will spend $777,000 to expedite prep work for a planned harbor dredge in hopes that it will make the federal government more likely to award the city a heavy subsidy for the overall project.
The City Council unanimously agreed Tuesday night to pay contractor Anchor QEA to prepare plans and permits that would make the project shovel-ready by the end of 2019. The city hopes that will give the Army Corps of Engineers confidence that its multimillion-dollar assist would be promptly spent on removing 1 million cubic yards of sediment to make the harbor deep enough for ideal boat travel. The city last undertook a major, but partial, harbor dredge in 2012-13.
Ideally, the next dredge will get the boating channels back to their intended depths of 10 to 20 feet. The most clogged areas have at least 5 feet of sediment to be removed, according to the city.
City staff estimates the total project will cost about $23 million, with the city contributing about 20% to 25% of that. The $777,000 expenditure will go toward the city’s share.
“This strategy worked for our previous dredge project in 2012. Basically, we did all the homework,” said Harbor Resources Manager Chris Miller. “We’re taking on all the responsibilities because we want to get to the shovel-ready point, the end point, sooner than later.”
The federal government already has allotted some money toward the $23 million. This summer, it gave Newport $150,000, and this month it earmarked an additional $2.9 million.
The Army Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for maintaining minimum depths in the harbor’s boating channels, would normally complete the key engineering and administrative tasks.
But time is money. Miller said Army Corps staff has told him the agency doesn’t have the resources or funding to get Newport in prime position within a year, as city officials prefer.
So over the next several months, Anchor QEA, a marine engineering firm, will:
Prepare the design, engineering, environmental review and regulatory permitting for the overall project, subject to Army Corps approval.
Further analyze sediment samples the city extracted earlier this year to determine what is clean enough for ocean disposal a few miles offshore.
More deeply sample in the Newport Channel, an arm of the harbor roughly between Ninth and 19th streets. That area typically has returned more contaminated sediment samples, so the city took only limited samples during this year’s study. However, a cursory review showed the samples might not have been as polluted as assumed. And because the federal government handles the disposal of cleaner sediment while local governments dispose of polluted muck, it’s in the city’s economic interest to identify as little polluted sediment as possible.
Plan, design and secure separate regulatory permits for a “confined aquatic disposal site” to hold the worst of the dredged material. This would entail burying the contaminated material in a newly dug hole in the harbor floor and topping it with clean sediment. In its last major dredge, Newport was able to offload to the Port of Long Beach about 120,000 cubic yards of material deemed unfit for open-ocean disposal. Long Beach, which used it as landfill, currently doesn’t have a need for fill.
Newport officials, including current councilmen and former Harbor Commission members Brad Avery and Marshall “Duffy” Duffield, have been lobbying locally and in Washington, D.C., for the federal dredge funds for three years.