Harbor dredging at Ventura, Channel Islands and other predominantly recreational harbors is in jeopardy because of a proposed cut in the 1990 federal budget.
The Bush Administration has proposed funding cuts that would keep the Army Corps of Engineers from dredging 74 harbors in 24 states. The proposal calls for the corps to stop dredging harbors with less than 25,000 tons of cargo annually, but corps officials said this week that the figure is under review.
"We are reassessing the criteria but we have no time frame for when we'll make any decision," said Carol Wolff, a corps spokeswoman.
Meanwhile, officials at both Ventura and Channel Islands harbors say they are keeping a close watch on the proposal.
"It's obvious we're going to have a fight . . . but we don't know what we're fighting against," said Richard Parsons, harbor manager for the Ventura Port District. About 15,000 tons of cargo each year, mainly fish, pass through the harbor, he said.
Channel Islands Harbor Master Frank Anderson said his office is tallying up the tonnage at his harbor while awaiting the corps' final proposal.
"Once the corps makes fully known what their policy is, then we can start to react to it," he said.
Both harbors require regular dredging to stay open. Without dredging, dangerous conditions can occur as sand from winter storms piles up at the harbor entrances, creating large waves or causing boats to run aground.
In January, after reports that the biannual dredging scheduled this spring at Channel Islands Harbor might be postponed until at least the fall, officials from Ventura County and the cities of Oxnard and Port Hueneme asked Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) for help in securing corps funds to ward off "a potentially life-threatening situation."
The corps eventually agreed to dredge the harbor this spring and will move 2 million cubic yards of sand down the coast at a cost of $3.6 million. The sand will be dumped onto Silver Strand and Hueneme beaches to reduce erosion at the Pacific Missile Test Center at Point Mugu.
Ventura Harbor must be dredged every year at a cost of about $1.5 million.
Both harbors would be left high and dry if the federal cuts, which amount to about $49 million, go through as proposed.
The cuts would not affect Port Hueneme, Los Angeles and Long Beach harbors because of their large volume. Port Hueneme, for instance, processes more than 600,000 tons of cargo annually, a spokeswoman said.
Last week, the Ventura Port District sent a letter to the congressional subcommittee on energy and water development protesting the proposed cuts.
Parsons, the harbor manager, labeled the cuts inefficient.
"Nobody thought this thing out very well. If the economic activity associated with these harbors was curtailed, the loss to the federal treasury might outweigh the savings," he said.
Civil Works Budget
The corps, which oversees military construction and flood-control projects, receives funding from the Army's civil works budget. If Congress agrees to cut dredging funds from the budget, the cost would be shifted to local agencies.
"I don't see where the local government could afford the dredging," said Jim Manues, chief executive director of the Oceanside Harbor District, which operates Oceanside Harbor in San Diego County. "Without the dredging, we would eventually shut down."
Perry Davis, a spokesman for the corps, tried to downplay the potential effect of any cut, saying it is being proposed only for the 1990 budget. He said there is a chance that the projects could be funded in the 1991 budget.
Davis acknowledged that the federal government has maintenance agreements with many recreational harbors, but he said the budget cuts may be enacted anyway.
"We generally take the responsibility for maintaining the navigation of the entrance and main channel and the local operator is responsible for interior areas," where boats are berthed, Davis said. "But we can't do anything if there isn't any money."
Other Southern and Central California harbors that could be affected by the cuts include Marina del Rey, Dana Point, Mission Bay, Newport Bay, Redondo Beach, Santa Barbara, Port San Luis and Morro Bay.
However, some of those harbors, including Redondo Beach, Newport Bay and Dana Point, do not need regular dredging.
"At Dana Point, the corps has not dredged since the harbor was built in 1970," said Tom Rossmiller, assistant civil engineer for the Orange County Department of Harbors, Beaches and Parks. "Since 1958, the corps has spent $484,973 for maintenance of Newport Harbor. That's essentially dredging the channel once a decade."