Commentary: Yacht-mooring on Lido favors 'mega-rich'

The city's Harbor Department and Harbor Commission work long and hard on harbor-related issues, but they have it wrong this time ("2 large yachts get OK to anchor," Aug. 16).

The commission approved allowing a five-story-tall, 216-foot-long ship to anchor for two months in front of homes and commercial properties at the west end of Lido Isle. The Daily Pilot published a rough diagram with a small square to show the ship's location.

The commission actually used a more-complete diagram depicting the actual size and position of the ship. The ship's location is so close to homes and businesses that it will create a hazard for larger boats navigating into their slips. The ship's systems operating full-time will surely create air, noise and light pollution in the turning basin and constitute a nuisance to the surrounding properties.

The west end of Lido is not an authorized anchorage for vessels of any size. Commercial boats, smaller than this ship, must keep moving and cannot linger long at the west end of Lido. While it was used as a temporary anchorage for visiting boats during dredging of the bay, the boats' slipping anchors and the loose unmanned boats proved the bottom inadequate to safely and reliably hold the boats.

Apparently, the rules do not apply to this 216-foot ship or to another privately owned, 130-foot ship the commission also approved to anchor at the west end of Lido. The 216-foot ship's owner will be permitted to install a so-called "temporary mooring" as part of the commission's experiment, with the ship's stern at the mooring and its bow anchored across the bay. The 130-foot ship would prefer to swing at anchor in a huge 400-foot circle, but the commission might require it to use the "temporary mooring" when the 216-foot ship is out cruising.

Allowing the mega-rich to anchor outside an authorized anchorage and stay weeks and months beyond the 72-hour limit imposed on other boaters seems like special treatment. All three members of the subcommittee recommending commission approval apparently have relationships with one or both of the ships' owners or crews.

The speed with which this approval was quietly rushed through raises a question: whether there was an unbiased analysis of the significant impact this will have on the harbor, the surrounding businesses, property owners, and residents.

Questions remain. Did the commission verify the harbor's depth at low tide along the route and in the anchorage to ensure that the ships will not hit bottom or damage the protected eel grass? Will the scope of the ships' anchor chains pose navigation hazards?

Did it determine whether the diesel fumes from full-time generators will be hazardous? How much will the ships' lights affect the homes and restaurants?

These and other questions need answers. As provided in the municipal code, the City Council should make final decisions on anchorages, after proper notice to surrounding properties, not the harbor commissioners choosing ad-hoc exceptions for mega-ships as an experiment to see how it works out.

PAMELA WHITESIDES lives in Newport Beach.

[For the record, 9:30 a.m. Aug. 22: An earlier version of this commentary incorrectly referred to Whitesides as living on Lido Isle. She is a Newport Beach resident.]

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