Playa del Rey residents claim they are experiencing headaches and nausea as a result of diesel fumes generated by equipment being used in a U. S. Army Corps of Engineers dredging project at Marina del Rey.
"They have created a health hazard and they don't seem to care," said Howard Bennett, a Culver City High School teacher who is president of the Playa del Rey Homeowners Assn.
He said residents have made numerous calls to public agencies, but the dredging has continued "with total disregard to the people who live here."
Paul Berger, chief of the construction branch of the Corps of Engineers, said the agency has received complaints from residents about noise and exhaust fumes from a diesel pump running 24 hours a day on Dockweiler State Beach just south of Marina del Rey.
"We can't move the pump . . . so what we are trying to do is make it the least obnoxious that we can," he said.
Berger said that a large muffler has been installed to quiet the pump. Exhaust pipes have been extended 150 to 200 feet in an attempt to carry fumes away from oceanfront residences.
"We have done everything we can to take care of those two problems (the noise and fumes)," he said in an interview Wednesday. "I was there yesterday and it seems to be working very well."
However, residents claim that the muffler and additional pipe have not substantially improved the problem.
"This has not really helped," said Bennett. "We see huge clouds of black smoke coming from the area."
South Coast Air Quality Management District spokesman James Birakos said Wednesday that the agency was dispatching an inspector to investigate possible problems at the site.
Dredging is needed every few years at Marina del Rey to remove the sand that accumulates in the navigational channels, according to Larry Charness, planning chief for the county Department of Beaches and Harbors.
"The shoaling presents a navigational hazard to small boats, and it could close down the harbor if it were not cleared out," he said.
Because the marina waters are a federal government responsibility, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers periodically monitors the shoaling and when necessary provides funds for a private company to conduct the dredging, Charness said.
The last major dredging was in 1981.
That project also raised the ire of residents because sediment from the bottom of the marina channel was dumped on the beach, prompting complaints that the sand and organic material "were unsightly and stunk."
In response to those complaints, the current project dumps the sediment into the surf at Dockweiler rather than on the beach itself. The sand contained in the sediment is purified and washes ashore to replenish the beach, officials said.
The project, scheduled for completion by Tuesday, is being conducted by Dredge Master Associates of Richmond, Calif., under a $1,067,000 federal contract. The county provided $175,000 for its portion of the dredging project, Charness said.