NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began a five-month, $6.5 million maintenance dredging project May 2 when a clamshell dredge started removing up to 350,000 cubic yards of material in an effort to restore safe navigation to federal channels in lower Newport Harbor.

The contractor, R.E. Staite Engineering of San Diego, Calif., will operate two clamshell dredges and up to four scows, or barges, to remove the material and place it at one of two locations. About one-third of the material will go to the Port of Long Beach middle harbor redevelopment project and about two-thirds to an EPA-approved offshore placement area.

"This project was a big challenge for us," said Col. Mark Toy, commander and district engineer of the Corps' Los Angeles District. "We're dealing with some contaminated sediment, and that could be cost-prohibitive for a project this size. Fortunately, we have an opportunity with parties in Long Beach to use that material. That will reduce the cost of the project and make maximum benefit of the federal dollars."

Over the years, some of the channels in the harbor have shoaled in, creating a navigation hazard and resulting in groundings of some vessels. The project will return the federal channels to their design depths of minus 10 to minus 20 feet, improving navigation safety in the federal channels within the harbor.

"Safe navigation is the big benefit of this project," said Chris Miller, the harbor resources manager for Newport Beach. "We've been working on this for many, many years. We've been working together with Corps for nearly 10 years, and have had a lot of upper level support. We're very happy with the cooperative nature of the project."

Miller said sediment testing was one of the major factors in determining how the project would proceed.

"As with all projects, one of many hurdles is funding," Miller said. "We had to figure out what material was suitable for ocean disposal and what was not suitable. We had to get the best value for our dollar on this project, which I believe we have. So we're very excited about this project. "

"It's been a multi-year process to get to this point," said Scott John, who manages the project for the Corps. "Newport harbor is pretty large. We have six different areas we'll be dredging, from 3,000 cubic yards to 60-, 70-, 100,000 cubic yards. They're prioritized by depth. The areas most shoaled in are the highest priority, and we worked with city of Newport Beach to establish those."

"We'll monitor water quality at all dredge areas to ensure we're honoring our environmental commitments," Scott said. "We're working closely with the environmental resource agencies to ensure the project is as beneficial to the environment as it is to the boaters of Newport Beach."

The lower harbor dredging project will also benefit from work previously done upstream.

In 2010, the Corps completed a $47 million ecosystem restoration project in the adjacent Upper Newport Bay, dredging 2.3 million cubic yards of material and creating a basin designed to capture sediment entering the upper bay for the next 21 years.

"Whatever happens in the upper bay affects the lower bay," John said. "By dredging in the upper bay, we can store more material there and prevent it from entering the lower bay. It's all interconnected."

"This project was a long time coming," said Ralph Rodheim, chairman of the Newport Beach Harbor Commission. "The harbor's not been fully dredged in 70 years. We're a safe harbor, so any boats in distress will now be able to come in and not worry about running aground. This is a critical project."

Rodheim called Newport "the largest small boat harbor in the world" and said it is homeport for 10- to 12,000 boats.

"This harbor is clearly one of America's jewels," Rodheim said. "It's a mixed use harbor, and we're very proud of it."

Toy said the Newport Harbor project is similar in some respects to some other Corps projects, like the dredging taking place at Marina del Rey that also will place material at the Port of Long Beach.

"The strength of the district is its relationships with partners, stakeholders and sponsors," Toy said. "The strength of Corps is that long after I'm gone, we'll have the great employees and relationships to continue work like this."

Page last updated Wed May 9th, 2012 at 00:00