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U.S. Gives $500,000 to Dredge Silt in Harbor

Safety: The county and Army Corps of Engineers need to find another $1.2 million to clear channels leading from Marina del Rey to the ocean.


In an effort to keep open the channels leading from Marina del Rey to the sea, Rep. Jane Harman (D-Torrance) announced Sunday that $500,000 in federal funds has been secured to help dredge the silt and sand building on the ocean floor.

Standing on a lifeguard boat at the entrance to the ocean, Harman said the funds would pay for almost a third of a $1.7-million dredging operation that could start next spring.

Although the county and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers now have to piece together the rest of the needed funding, county officials called the federal pledge "a good start" to ridding the harbor of contaminated sediment, a problem they have struggled to solve for several years.

County officials said the funding is desperately needed to clear the channels, which allow emergency and recreation boats access to the ocean. About 500,000 cubic yards of sediment from Ballona Creek and the pounding ocean surf have choked half of the two channels that boats take out of the small-craft harbor. Many worry that the heavy rain predicted this winter because of El Nino will dump even more buildup onto the marina floor.

If enough silt clogs the channels, the stagnant material could paralyze the marina. The last dredging took place in April 1996, when sediment blocked 90% of the south entrance and made it virtually impossible for boats to get through.

Removing the sediment is the responsibility of the corps, which has had difficulty finding money for the project in recent years. The dredging also has been stymied as officials try to figure out how to dispose of contaminated silt.

"This is truly a public safety issue," said county Supervisor Don Knabe, pointing toward two large boats narrowly navigating through the partially closed channel Sunday. "This is a start and we will be working with the Army corps on coming up with some kind of matching funds."

To complete a thorough dredging of the marina--a four-week project that could start in March--the county and the corps need an additional $1.2 million. Although county officials were hoping to get federal funding for the entire project, Knabe expressed optimism that the rest of the money could be found. However, corps staff working on the project said they had concerns.

"It will be tough to scrounge up, but it's worth trying to accomplish," said Anthony Risko, a civil engineer with the corps.


Harman urged local officials to complete a long-term dredging plan for the marina. She said this is the third time she has had to squeeze money from the federal budget for the project.

She said the money was secured three days ago from the energy and water appropriations bill with the help of Rep. Vic Fazio (D-West Sacramento) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).

"We can't come back every year and grovel like this," Harman said.

For the last several years, local officials have been trying to solve the problem of sediment buildup, a challenge compounded by the presence of pollutants carried by the silt to the marina floor. More than half the sediment is contaminated by runoff from storm drains, making the normal dredging procedure of dumping the sand onto nearby beaches impossible.

The dredging project that officials hope to start next spring would remove only clean sediment and spread that sand out on Dockweiler State Beach. The project would keep the south entrance at least 50% open and widen the north entrance to 90% capacity.

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