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Newport Harbor dredging project beats deadline

Contractor's efficiency and boat owners' cooperation are credited with early completion of Rhine Channel cleanup.

November 16, 2011|By Mike Reicher, Los Angeles Times
  • Contaminated sediment was dredged from the Rhine Channel in the $4-million project.
Contaminated sediment was dredged from the Rhine Channel in the $4-million… (Scott Smeltzer / Daily Pilot )

Work crews have finished scooping tons of chemical-laden sediment from the historic Rhine Channel in Newport Harbor, completing a $4-million project ahead of time.

The channel, once a bustling home to fishing fleets and cannery operations, has long been contaminated by mercury, pesticides and other toxic chemicals.

The city's contractor, Dutra Dredging, beat the year-end deadline to dredge the channel and haul the contaminated sediment to Long Beach, where it will be used as fill dirt for a construction project.

Because the area is packed with private docks and marinas, the project was closely choreographed to allow people access to their boats.

Owners' willingness to move their boats on time, coupled with the dredgers' efficiency, let the project run smoothly, said Harbor Resources Manager Chris Miller.

"I'm thankful for the community for helping out," he said.

Once lined with shipyards, canneries, boat-building and metal plating companies, the Rhine was essentially a marine dump for much of the last century.

Around 2000, environmental groups including Orange County Coastkeeper began a push to clean the narrow, closed-ended waterway where Cannery Village meets the Balboa Peninsula. The city soon joined the effort.

"We're really thrilled that the city stepped up on this," said Ray Hiemstra, Coastkeeper associate director. "We think it's going to do a lot to improve water quality."

Newport officials signed on before water quality regulators could threaten them with fines, Hiemstra said.

He added that governments often drag their feet on such environmental cleanups.

One major milestone came in October 2010, when the Port of Long Beach agreed to accept the contaminated sediment as fill dirt for one of its construction projects. Otherwise, the city would have been required to haul it inland — at a much higher cost.

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