Boaters and surfers disagreed Tuesday on the merits of an Army Corps of Engineers plan to build a second breakwater at the Ventura Harbor's entrance channel.
Commercial fisherman and recreational boaters told of dangerous, threatening waves that turn the channel into a navigational nightmare. An 800-foot breakwater to the south of the entrance would be the most effective remedy, they said.
But surfers told of beautiful, arching swells that make the south jetty an ideal spot for mounting a big breaker. Any large barrier would destroy one of Southern California's finest surfing areas, they said.
"We would obviously like to have a project that pleases everybody," said Richard W. Parsons, general manager of the Ventura Port District. "But that may not be possible."
Army engineers, who are charged with dredging the harbor entrance, published a report this week identifying alternatives for addressing the navigational and recreational concerns.
Since 1972, the corps has spent more than $12 million in dredging operations at the harbor to maintain a channel depth of 20 to 30 feet. Depth less than that can pose a safety problem for boaters and for the harbor's small commercial fishing fleet, according to a Corps report.
Corps officials said Tuesday that the 800-foot breakwater would be the best solution to safety problems but they acknowledged that it probably would have an adverse effect on surfing conditions. A different plan endorsed by surfers that proposes fewer structural changes would not provide as much protection to boaters, officials said.
"We don't want anyone leaving here thinking we have a solution ready, because we don't," Col. Tadahiko Ono, district engineer for the Corps of Engineers, told a crowd of about 70 at the Channel Islands National Park headquarters in Ventura. "We're just beginning to analyze the various alternatives."
For boaters, safety is the primary concern.
"I think that safety has to be far more important than maintaining a play area, if you will," said Lee Griswold, who keeps a boat in the Ventura Harbor. "There's just no choice."
Bill Sutton, vice president of the Ventura County Commercial Fishermen's Assn., agreed. "It can get hairy," he said. "I'd hate to become a statistic."
But surfers, while acknowledging the need for safe boat conditions, defended the south jetty as a prized natural resource.
"We're all concerned about safety, but we'd hate to see the destruction of perhaps the best bodysurfing beach in Southern California," said Alan Templeman, a Ventura surfer.
Michael Williams, a member of the Ventura County Body Surfing Assn., agreed. "I've always viewed the corps as being a little like beavers," he told the corps officials. "Admirable in your industry but sometimes a little destructive."
Army officials said that another public meeting will be held next summer to discuss the plans in more detail.