Marsh dredging ramped up

Crews dredging sediment from the Santa Ana River Marsh in Newport Beach will be working in overdrive to wrap up a project that was scheduled to be complete a few weeks ago.

The Army Corps of Engineers, which is pumping "good quality" sediment just offshore and trucking the rest to upland sites, expects to finish by March 31.

Previously, the temporary pipeline running across the sand and into the water near 60th Street was scheduled to be removed by about Feb. 25, with the rest of the project done by March 15, according to Corps biologist Erin Jones.

That way, endangered clapper rail birds could nest undisturbed, she said.

But, like a baseball game, things got waylaid by rain delays. Rather than leave the project incomplete and bring dredging equipment back in August, the Corps and the city opted to continue now, according to an update on the city's website,.

"We couldn't leave [the marsh] in that condition, because it wouldn't function properly," Jones said earlier this week. The Corps contacted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which determined that crews should keep dredging, she said.

"We just have to maintain a buffer around where the clapper rail is in the marsh," Jones said, adding that monitors onsite help to ensure that the breeding areas are left undisturbed.

She said the roughly $5-million cost of the project, which will ultimately remove about 75,000 cubic yards of sediment built up over the marsh's estimated 20-year existence, will not increase because of the delay.

Nearby residents have expressed concerns about the roughly 25,000 cubic yards of sediment to be pumped offshore, but officials have said that sand has been deemed fine enough and clean enough to eventually serve as beach replenishment. The officials have also said the project will not have a negative long-term effect on water quality.

Twitter: @jillcowan

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