Newport's hot commodity: sand

While some Newport Beach residents eagerly await the opening of Marina Park in two years, others already have cause for celebration.

They've been promised some of the location's sand.

To make way for the 23-slip marina planned for the new Balboa Peninsula park, crews will soon dredge more than 40,000 cubic yards of material from the harbor and redistribute it throughout the city's shoreline.

It's a perfect source for reusable beach material — a highly sought-after commodity for beach dwellers who experience, quite literally, life's shifting sands. As seasons pass, their beaches change, sometimes growing, sometimes shrinking.

High on the list of recipients in the coming months is China Cove, a Corona del Mar community that faces the entrance channel leading into Newport Harbor.

The community will receive 5,000 cubic yards of the grainy material, city staff said.

Portions will also be distributed in front of the lifeguard headquarters by the Newport Pier and at Marina Park itself.

The rest will be dumped in the ocean to make its way onto the beaches more slowly, a sort of "pre-loading," Public Works Director Dave Webb said.

"It's the nature of sand," Webb explained. "People think it's a static thing, but it's not. It's dynamic. It's moving all the time. It's constant maintenance."

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Be it tides, wind or storms, a number of forces influence sand's flow.

At China Cove, resident Warren James said the sand tends to travel north, moving from the smaller of the two beaches toward the larger.

As it continues north along the shore, the sand periodically fills up the bottom of a marina at a neighboring condo complex, Channel Reef. The marina has been be dredged periodically and the sand placed back on the beach.

"The beach would go up, and it would go down," James said rhythmically. "It would go up, and it would go down."

But about five years ago, 7,000 cubic yards of sand were trucked away by the city, throwing off the delicate balance, James said. (Webb disputes this assertion.)

Whereas James once played baseball on dry sand with his son, now 34, the shore outside his home is wet most of the time, the longtime resident explained. The height of the beach has lowered noticeably.

"I've raised hell with the city," he said. "You guys hauled all the sand away. You've caused all the problems. We want sand."

The issue of sand shortages reaches beyond aesthetics and recreation. The foundation of his neighbor's house fell through while under reconstruction in 2009, though owner Harley Broviak said fault might be placed on any number of possible causes.

On one hand, Broviak wonders if people can ever really control Mother Nature enough to protect their homes. On the other, he recognizes that homeowners pay taxes and are entitled to civic support.

Broviak repaired and now lives in the 1957 home, which he bought in 2007, but he said risk factors remain for many waterfront residents. He noted that engineering has become outdated, the harbor was recently dredged and perhaps the sea levels are rising.

"Nobody knows the true reason for it, and that's really the big problem," he said of the shifting shores. "I just don't know what the resolution is."

The Marina Park sand will help, he says, but it is unknown how long the grains will remain.

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China Cove is not alone in its struggle. Areas along Balboa Island and the Balboa Peninsula have also piped up about a need for more beach, or, conversely, a need for dredging.

Decades ago, island residents used to dredge under their boat slips and put the sand back on the beach. The system worked — until eel grass became protected, Harbor Resources Manager Chris Miller noted.

Now a costly mitigation process is required for dredging, and few people dig under their docks as a result, Miller explained.

Instead, every June, the city embarks on a major sand replenishment project for Balboa Island, obtaining permits and using tractors to push the material from the low tide line to the high tide line.

That's just one example of ongoing sand management efforts. Newport Beach also makes a point of redistributing sand in any dredging project when it can, said Councilwoman Nancy Gardner.

"The overarching problem is that we have interfered with the transport of sand. We've put dams in rivers, we've made concrete bottoms, so all the natural sand flow has been curtailed," she said. "Every time we interfere with nature, we have to fix it, and it's not that easy."

As such, she said, Newport will "be in the sand business" for centuries to come.

The city may be opportunistic, but still the sand must meet certain requirements.

Rather than mix rocky sand with fine grains, for example, the city ensures that the new sediment is comparable in size to the material at the recipient site.

The grains dug from Marina Park may be darker until the sun bleaches them, but the size hits the mark: "We're carving out a marina where there was once a beach," noted Harbor Resources Manager Chris Miller.

To Miller's knowledge, Newport Beach hasn't imported sand before, but that also remains an option for supplementing the sand generated by dredging projects.

"Why couldn't you take sand from somewhere else in the watershed?" he asked. "That's a good reuse of sand."

Exploring the idea is on his to-do list.

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