This project will improve the harbor environment. Dredging will improve the harbor aquatic environment by increasing tidal flushing. The harbor’s smaller back channels will especially benefit from increased circulation. The project will also improve water quality. Sediment that contains low levels of pollutants (identified in less than 9% of the dredge material) would be placed underground within the harbor where it would no longer be freely circulating near the harbor floor.
In 2010, the City developed a Harbor Area Management Plan (https://www.newportbeachca.gov/home/showdocument?id=9186), which recommended the City develop a water quality model to simulate hydrodynamic conditions within Newport Bay. This was never done. While it is likely that dredging will help with water flow in general, any linkage to back bay channels is not supported by any data or modeling by the CIty..
Further, it is the concentration of contaminants within sediment that is making this sediment ‘unsuitable’ for offshore disposal. In some cases, Mercury alone is 2 to 4 times the regulatory limit. Therefore, suggesting these are low levels of contaminants is not accurate, or else the sediment could go offshore. But it cannot, because it is contaminated with toxins that include Mercury, PCBs, and DDT.
The Army Corps is only dredging the federal channels, so there are large areas of the Bay that will have sediment that can be suspended in the water column. Based on available data, some of the worst sediment in Newport Bay is near people’s homes, and this program is not dredging there.
Testing showed that the unsuitable dredge material was not harmful to aquatic organisms. The assessment of proposed dredge material included biological testing using multiple species of aquatic organisms that were exposed to sediment for several weeks. This was done under strict laboratory testing protocols developed by the EPA and regulatory agencies. No toxicity was observed during testing. All mercury concentrations in tissues were below those that have been shown to cause toxicity to marine organisms. This means that the tested species were healthy and not affected or harmed by weeks of direct contact with the unsuitable material. In addition, all tissue concentrations were below U.S. Food and Drug Administration action levels for mercury in fish and shellfish for human food, indicating this would not pose a human health risk.
All City testing included the 80-90% clean material as part of the test sample. The City never tested the 9% of ‘unsuitable’ sediment by itself. And when determined to be ‘unsuitable’ for offshore disposal, never attempted any additional sampling or analysis. To quote the City, ‘As part of the City’s sediment characterization process, the City analyzed the sediment within the federal channels with the primary objective to determine suitability of dredge material for ocean disposal at LA-3 ODMDS.’ 1 Sediment testing was not done to evaluate the toxic effects of contaminated sediment disposal near people’s homes or with the protection of the Newport Bay environment in mind.
In-harbor material disposal is an EPA-supported method of properly managing sediment that contains low levels of pollutants. The City proposes to contain some of the dredge material underground through a method known as Confined Aquatic Disposal, or CAD. This method is supported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and has been successfully implemented in ports and harbors such as Long Beach, Port Hueneme, Boston, New Bedford, Chesapeake Bay, Humboldt Bay and Baltimore. CADs are widely accepted by the regulatory agencies as an environmentally safe approach for sediment management.
The preferred method for storing contaminated material is to take it out of water. A CAD is generally used in a Port or commercial harbor, and almost always when other land and/or beneficial reuse alternatives are not available, expect for this project.
This is the first CAD in a recreational harbor with the variety of contact recreation activities that exist in Newport Bay, and the City has offered no evidence that they looked at any options besides burying the sediment somewhere in Newport Bay.
Roughly the size of Bay Island, the CAD will be less than 500 feet from people’s homes, under a 1/2 mile from a Marine Protected Area (MPA), and less than 1200 feet from the kid’s play beach at Bayshore. The EPA did not suggest a CAD for Newport Bay, the City Public Works Department did.
( See our website www.FriendsofNewportHarbor.org for Google Maps photos of what the Cities consultant considers examples comparable to Newport Harbor.)
The CAD would provide a confined location for harbor bottom sediment that is now exposed to the environment. The sediment unsuitable for open ocean disposal is currently situated at the bottom of the harbor where it is subject to being continually stirred up through everyday boating activity. The unsuitable sediment will be placed in a large hole, then covered with clean sediment to create a contained system that will prevent this material from being stirred up and resuspended in the water, where it makes contact with boats, swimmers and wildlife.
Undoubtedly, the most important part of the CAD design is the ‘clean’ material that is going to be the final layer that isolates the contaminants from the environment. The City has yet to identify this critical cover material, leaving it as a to-be-determined part of the CAD design. For at least 2 years, the consolidated contaminants in the middle of lower Newport Bay will be covered by an extremely thin 1 foot layer of sand, significantly less than the recommended 3-ft cap thickness of the final layer.
The dredging plan is subject to rigorous environmental analysis and approval by multiple outside agencies. The City’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR) which includes a thorough analysis of the proposal, has been available to the public since 2020. Several public hearings were held as the EIR came before the Harbor Commission and City Council for approval in 2021. Throughout the approval process, City staff has met with numerous groups, harbor stakeholders and individual residents to explain the proposal and invite comment. The dredge plan is subject to approval by the EPA, California Coastal Commission, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Regional Water Quality Control Board.
The CIty’s ‘rigorous environmental analyses’ was a single sampling event in 2019. For a proposal as significant as burying contaminants near people’s homes, one sampling event was conducted by the City, while never individually testing the contaminated material for its effects on water quality or toxicity of laboratory animals. The City self-certifies their environmental analysis through their local coastal program (LCP). Therefore, non-elected and non-technical harbor commissioners working in concert with public works staff recommend the approval of the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) to the City Council, who, while maybe skilled at building boats, are not experts in sediment management or dredging.
The “rigorous process” by the City included using a singular consultant who employed former regulators as staff, and was solely used to design, draft, sample, plan, and permit this effort. The Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Board has reviewed this project, and recommended multiple days per week of monitoring and water samples for Metals, PCBs, DDT, etc. The City’s monitoring plan included zero samples and a one time per week spot check. The Regional Board monitoring requirements, and the City’s EIR monitoring recommendations are diametrically opposed to each other, highlighting the City’s deliberate underestimate of impacts to the environment when preparing the EIR.
Multiple alternative methods other than in-harbor disposal were considered. As required by the EIR, the City considered many potential alternatives to the recommended proposal. Shipping the material by barge to the ports of Long Beach or Los Angeles was not possible as the ports do not have plans to expand in the foreseeable future. Removing the material by land is impractical, prohibitively expensive and would result in increased environmental impacts. It would require the construction of a shore-side processing area and transporting the material to a landfill by an estimated 8,800 truck trips. This would cause considerable impacts to the environment, roadways and surrounding neighborhoods. The City also considered alternatives suggested by residents, such as placing unsuitable material at the Lower Castaways public park. An independent consultant retained by the City to review this approach found that it could cost as much as $89 million and would impact public access, animal habitats, coastal bluffs, visual quality, and public views. Another suggested approach was to treat the material, and then dispose of that treated material in the open ocean. Unfortunately, the EPA does not allow any treated material to be placed in the open ocean.
According to the City’s EIR, valid CEQA alternatives options were:
Other options like ‘leave in place’ and ‘no dredge’ are not valid because these are federal channels and are required to be maintained to the permitted depths.The lower castaways option was never evaluated by the City during the EIR process. However, it is egregiously untruthful for the City to suggest that dredging less than 80,000 cubic yards and placement nearby at Lower Castaways is $80M more than the price of the CAD, that includes dredging 5 times the amount of material, relocates an anchorage for years, involves many additional months of construction ver multiple phases spanning multiple years, and is required to undergo a tremendous amount of monitoring and reporting during and after construction. Public works has already adjusted its costs for the CAD from an estimated $6 to $8m, to $10M citing inflation, and they will be back for more. Beyond that, the end result of a Lower castaways includes a new launch ramp for hand launched vessels, much needed bathrooms, and additional parking, storing sediment at Lower Castaways is an upgrade for the Newport Beach community, it shortens the dredging period in the bay, does not result in plumes of DDT, does not need to relocate the anchorage, and permanently removes the contaminated sediment from the bay. Forever.
Conceptual Rendering – Park, Walk, Launch – Enjoy (one of twelve)
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