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$5.4-Million Dredging Project Will Keep Muck at Bay

January 24, 1998|DAVID REYES

Frank Robinson sat quietly with a smile on his face while elected officials took the podium Friday to launch a massive, $5.4-million dredging project in the upper back bay.

Robinson, 78, is regarded as the granddaddy of the local environmental movement. With his wife, Frances, he has spent 34 years fighting to protect the upper bay from one development proposal after another.

"This is great," Robinson said. "Removal of silt from the waterways here is so important to the health of the estuary back in the bay. Fish lay their eggs there. If you didn't dredge, you wouldn't have any of those fishing boats out there in the ocean."

Over the next 12 months, Oceanside-based Soli-Flo, a subsidiary of Fluor Daniel, will dredge more than 800,000 cubic yards of mud from the back bay and dump it 4 1/2 miles out to sea. County officials said the project became critical after funding roadblocks delayed dredging for nearly five years.

During that time, runoff from each rainstorm caused tons of silt to fill the ecologically sensitive reserve, which is owned and operated by the state Department of Fish and Game and Orange County.

Designated as an endangered habitat, the bay is a home for the light-footed clapper rail and the Belding's savannah sparrow, both on the state's endangered species list.

Also, two endangered plants and five other endangered or rare birds visit the bay, including the least tern, brown pelican, peregrine falcon, black raqil and the California gnatcatcher.

The project was greeted enthusiastically by elected officials, local residents and business people, including Tim Quinn, operator of the Newport Dunes Resort.

"It's great news for me," said Quinn, whose 450-slip marina is Newport's largest. "With storms, all the silt comes from the surrounding hillsides and is supposed to drop out in those catch basins. But when it's full, as it has been, the silt continues to come down and gets into my place here."

Elected officials that helped launch the dredging project included U.S. Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach), Assemblywoman Marilyn C. Brewer (R-Newport Beach), state Sen. Ross Johnson, (R-Irvine), County Supervisor Thomas W. Wilson, Newport Beach Mayor Thomas C. Edwards, and former state Sen. Marian Bergeson, now state secretary of child development and education.

Also present were Jacqueline E. Schafer, state Fish and Game director, and Douglas Wheeler, state secretary of resources.

Plans to construct an 800-square-foot educational center at the upper bay's reserve were announced by Schafer.

About $200,000 has been raised from public and private donations. Completion is expected in the spring.

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