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Heal the Bay Study Urges Closure of Swim Area : Environment: Report recommends a $60 yearly boater's fee to pay for cleaning the marina and says Mother's Beach should be shut down. But county tests indicate that the water there is safe.


MARINA DEL REY — The environmental group Heal the Bay has called for the closure of Mother's Beach, a popular recreation area in Marina del Rey, and the imposition of a $60 yearly boater's fee to help clean up the waters of the world's biggest man-made marina.

"The extent of the marina's pollution goes far beyond the trash and oily sheen commonly seen floating on the water's surface," the group said in its "State of the Marina" report, which was released last week.

"The area's large commercial and recreational use, along with the continual input of urban run-off from adjacent storm drains, has impacted the marina's ecological health," the report said.

Although disagreeing with some of its recommendations, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors, which operates the marina, said that officials share many of the concerns expressed by Heal the Bay.

"It's true that the water in the interior portions (of the marina) is not of as high a quality as the water near the mouth," said James A. Fawcett, chief of planning for the department.

Still, he said, weekly tests by county health authorities, and monthly samplings for his own department, have found the water to be "good enough for contact recreation" at Mother's Beach, a crescent-shaped artificial strand favored by parents of young children.

"If I was choosing a place to swim, I'd rather swim in the open ocean, but is it safe to swim in Marina del Rey? Definitely," Fawcett said.

Jack Woods, past president of the Pioneer Skippers Boat Owners Assn., said he shared the concern about the state of the water in the harbor, which is home to 6,000 boats, but he stopped short of endorsing a user fee on boaters.

"As a boat-user, I don't think it's a great idea, because the boats are already paying," Woods said, referring to the marina's position as a source of revenue for county government.

Prepared for a recent conference called "Boaters for the Bay," Heal the Bay's report was intended to increase public awareness of the marina's environmental problems at a time when questions of its economic viability are being re-examined by county leadership, said Adi Liberman, executive director of Heal the Bay.

"It seemed like a good time to get this out so the decision-makers, especially the (board of) supervisors, would have the information about the problems that are faced at the marina," he said.

"Nobody really knew back in the '60s, when the marina was created, that this was going to happen."

Built between 1960 and 1962 on the site of a natural wetland that drained large portions of the Los Angeles area, the Marina was designed in such a way that urban runoff from the adjacent Ballona Creek tends to wash back into the anchorage.

With the natural cleansing action of the waves blocked by a breakwater and blunted by the buildup of sediments at the entrance to the harbor, this means that the water is subject to toxic pollution from city streets as well as gas, oil and paint from boats, and worsened by flows from local storm drains.

Relying on county-sponsored research by Dorothy Soule and others at USC's Hancock Institute for Marine Studies, the report by Heal the Bay cited high levels of contamination by the heavy metals copper, lead, zinc and mercury, as well as organic compounds.

Laboratory tests have shown that high levels of contamination, such as those often found at the marina's D, E and F basins, have "chronic (but not lethal) inhibitory effects on certain (bottom-dwelling marine) species," the report said.

As for fish caught in the marina, research has found it safe to eat, but the study said that some species have been shown to have enough organic contaminants to impair the animal's liver and reproductive functions.

Turning to the years-old problem of sediment blocking entrance to the marina, the study said that the county's $600,000 annual budget for maintaining the marina is not sufficient.

"The strongest recommendation is to earmark funds . . . for better operation and maintenance of the marina, for providing hazardous waste disposal facilities . . . and (to find) a long-term solution to the contaminated sediment problem," said co-author Mark Gold, a staff scientist for Heal the Bay.

If the deposits blocking the harbor entrance were clean, they would have been cleared out by the Army Corps of Engineers long ago, he said, calling it a misconception that environmentalists oppose dredging at the marina.

The problem, he said, is finding a place to put the dirty sands, since they are too polluted to dump on a beach or disperse at sea.

"None of us here pretend to be expert on how to manage the sediments," he said. "It's just that a number of options have not been examined."

Fawcett of Beaches and Harbors said plans now call for dredging of the harbor entrance in 1994, with tests by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers scheduled for later this summer.

Temporary efforts to knock down the sediments last year were thwarted by the winter's record rains, which brought new sediment down into the marina from Ballona Creek while washing additional sand up from the ocean.

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