Marina Silt Removal Far Short of Goal


An effort by the Army Corps of Engineers to remove 135,000 cubic yards of contaminated silt and sand from the entrance to Marina del Rey is seriously off schedule, and engineers now expect to fall far short of their goal, a county official said this week.

"At this point, it's going very, very slowly," said James A. Fawcett, chief of planning for the county Department of Beaches and Harbors.

The Corps in October was given permission by the California Coastal Commission to dredge at the mouth of the marina, encase the spoil in special plastic tubes and dump it in Los Angeles Harbor as part of a port expansion project.

Round-the-clock dredging began on Nov. 9, but officials said that with less than two weeks before a Port Authority-imposed deadline to complete the work, only about 10% of the material has been removed.

Officials said the delay was the result of unfamiliarity in using the special plastic containers, each capable of holding up to 1,000 tons of material. Until now, the containers had never been approved for such a project in California.

The coastal panel approved the plan to dig up the sand and silt and transport it by barge to the Port of Los Angeles after county officials warned that unless something is done, silting at the mouth of the marina could choke off boating.

The county, which administers Marina del Rey, had sought approval to remove 530,000 cubic yards of the material.

Fawcett said that, judging from the slow pace of the project, it now may be possible to remove only half of the 135,000 cubic yards of material that was authorized.

In places, sand, silt and dirt lie barely beneath the waves, making it tricky for pleasure boaters to negotiate the marina's two entrances. Since August, 40% of the marina's north and south entrances have been closed to boating. The Corps has confined its work to one entrance at a time so as not to interrupt boaters' access to the marina, officials said.

If only 70,000 cubic yards of the material is removed immediately, officials said, it will still greatly improve navigation.

"We won't be able to get to minus 20 feet this round, as we would have liked, but if we're able to get (the sediment level) down to minus 10 or 12 (feet), that will be a great improvement," Fawcett said.

The sediment is largely the result of runoff from nearby Ballona Creek, which drains a 126-square-mile area from Downtown Los Angeles to the Pacific Ocean, picking up contaminants along the way.

The silting problem is not new for the marina, where the Corps has had to dredge frequently to keep the entrances open since the giant pleasure boat harbor was built in the 1960s. But it has become more severe in recent years as federal regulations--which once allowed lightly contaminated materials to be dumped on beaches for separation and removal--have become more stringent.

County officials acknowledge that the dredging operation is only a stopgap measure and say it could prove to be nearly futile if winter rains swell Ballona Creek.

Environmentalists have opposed the project, expressing concern that dredging will cause damaging materials to spread at the mouth of the marina.

The Coastal Commission rejected the plan in September, but in October approved a scaled-down dredging plan after securing assurances that the Corps will develop long-term solutions to keep the channel clear.

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