Council begins dredge study

The Laguna Beach City Council formed a subcommittee Tuesday to explore the effects that dumped sediment from an Upper Newport Bay dredging project may have on Laguna’s waters.

Mayor Pro Tem Jane Egly and Councilman Kelly Boyd will make up the committee, which will aim to address questions and concerns of local water quality activists.

Boyd said there is no specific plan of action for the committee, but he, Egly and City Manager Ken Frank will meet in the near future to hammer out the details of what needs to be done.

The move came after community members raised concerns about environmental impacts of dumping the sediment from the dredging project four miles off Crystal Cove.

Also central to the issue is whether Laguna residents or leaders had the opportunity to weigh in when the dump site, called LA-3, was approved.

“I think that it’s our turn to look into this and decide for ourselves,” resident Max Isles said as he addressed the council Tuesday.

That is exactly what the committee intends to do. The vote was 4-0 in favor of establishing the committee with Councilwoman Elizabeth Schneider abstaining because of a possible conflict of interest.

She sits on the San Diego Regional Water Quality Board and was concerned that voting on the matter before the City Council would require her to abstain if the issue comes before the water quality board.

Boyd said a few options they might explore would be to go out to the dump site and see the process first hand. He also suggested they may commission a private study to assess the toxicity of the material pulled from the bay.

Clean Water Now! founder and chairman Roger Butow contends the EPA didn’t do enough to inform Laguna residents about the site before it was approved in 2005.

David Smith, chief of the Wetlands Regulatory Office for the EPA, said the agency ran ads between 2003 and 2005 in the Orange County Business Journal and the Los Angeles Times. They held public hearings and sent out e-mails to a list of interested parties compiled by the US Army Corps of Engineers. They also filed the project in the Federal Register, which is the minimum notification required by EPA codes.

Butow said that wasn’t enough. He said it’s rare that people check for local projects in the Federal Register and the 2003 e-mail list — which contained his name— was outdated. He also said the two newspapers that ran the ads don’t fit his definition of “local.”

“They just didn’t dot their ‘i’s and cross their ‘t’s,” Butow said. He hopes a better way of informing the public of these projects will come out of the committee.

At the meeting were Jack and Nancy Skinner. The couple splits their time between Newport Beach and Laguna Beach. They attended EPA hearings in Newport Beach on the issue and expressed the same environmental concerns about the dredged material as many Laguna residents. They told the council that, after their research, they support the site.

“We support the LA-3 dump site without any concern for the water quality in this community,” Jack Skinner said.

Smith said he respects the city’s concerns and is willing to work with the committee to find a resolution. He was surprised there was such concern.

“It’s actually rare that we get a whole lot of interest in these kinds of projects,” Smith said.

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