Buck Gully erosion prevention delayed

A $2-million project to protect homeowners living adjacent to Lower Buck Gully from soil erosion is being delayed by a year until September 2011, because the city of Newport Beach could not obtain easements from private property owners in time, city officials confirmed Thursday.

The easements would have given the city permission to place rock-filled cages, called "gabions," in the gully to reduce erosion. Because the area of the natural coastal canyon that stretches coastward from around 5th Street is privately held by homeowners, the city had to obtain easements from all 26 homeowners before the project could go ahead, City Manager David Kiff said.

The time required to obtain the necessary easements has resulted in the city missing its "construction window," which avoids the spring nesting season of migratory birds found in the gully, Public Works spokeswoman Iris Lee said.

Last year, Kiff, Councilwoman Nancy Gardner and Public Works engineer Robert Stein went door to door to in the area to try and ease whatever hesitations some homeowners had in approving the easements, Gardner said.

"Some people are naturally just a little suspicious whenever government is involved," Gardner said. "We don't want control over the property, just to get in there and get the work done and do a little maintenance from time to time … the document is written very specifically. It authorizes only this one project."

Other homeowners were more concerned with aesthetics. Over the years, urban runoff has created lush greenery in the canyon, she said.

However, Gardner pointed out a similar yet smaller-scale project in which gabions were used at 5th Street and Poppy Avenue.

"The nice thing is that because it's natural stone — not concrete — that it fills with sediment after a few years and it turns into a planter," Gardner said. "After two years or so, you can barely notice it underneath all the plants that have grown there."

The city is currently obtaining the last of the easements, environmental documents and regulatory permits necessary to proceed with the project, Lee said.

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