Newport council likely to approve dredging project

Moving one step closer to dredging the main harbor, the Newport Beach City Council on Tuesday will likely allocate $2.5 million toward a project planned by the federal government.

The Army Corps of Engineers plans to dredge around parts of Lido Isle, Balboa Island and in some other channels.

Since it was first built in the 1930s, Newport Harbor has only had sporadic dredging, city officials say.

They hope this will be the first phase of a larger project to bring the entire bay to its original depths, though first they have to scrap together city, county and federal funds — even private donations.

This first phase would cost $6.9 million out of an estimated $25 million for the entire harbor.

Mayor Mike Henn has proposed organizing a group of private property owners, business owners and "friends of the Lower Bay" to help fund dredging, according to a city staff report.

One challenge they may have is, unlike at a community center or park, there are no obvious places to honor donors.

Upper Newport Bay, also known as the Back Bay, was dredged using federal funds. That project ended last year. Some of those federal funds were left over, spurring this latest round of sediment removal.

The Army engineers have targeted about 350,000 cubic yards of silt and muck in areas throughout the harbor: around the southwestern half of Lido Isle; the anchorage and the moorings in front of the Newport Harbor Yacht Club; in the channel north of Balboa Island and the southeast end of Harbor Island; in the middle of the channel between the Balboa Peninsula and Balboa Island; the area along the south edge of Bayshores and the Balboa Bay Club; and the area around the U.S. Coast Guard station.

Many of regions are less than 10 feet deep during average the tide level, according to Harbor Resources Manager Chris Miller.

Boats often run aground.

"It doesn't hit every area that is in need," Miller said, "but we think it is a good plan given all the constraints."

Some of the sediment also contains toxic chemicals, and city officials are working to improve water quality.

"This is an historic transition with benefits that are environmental, health-related and economically beneficial," Councilwoman Leslie Daigle said in a statement.

The contaminated material would usually have to be trucked inland instead of dumped offshore, but Newport can still use the Port of Long Beach for a disposal site.

The port accepted dirt from Rhine Channel, which was recently dredged, and has agreed to take more from the rest of the harbor. The dirt is being used for infill at a port construction site.

Miller hopes to start dredging in January.

Twitter: @mreicher

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