Beach trash dilemma grows in Long Beach [UPDATED]
UPDATED, 9:20 p.m.: An updated version of this article is available here: L.A. County scrambles to defend Long Beach harbor from storm debris
Facing forecasts of stormy weather that could flush tons of urban trash out to sea
and onto local beaches, Los Angeles County authorities today were trying to reinstall a boom needed to trap debris at the outlet of the Los Angeles River to Long Beach Harbor.
The boom had been decommissioned Monday because the county Department of Public Works ran out of money to keep it operating. The problem, according to a department spokesman, was that a company that was paid $450,000 to operate the boom this year — and remove the trash it harvested — had completed its contractual obligations ahead of schedule.
As a result, Frey Environmental Inc. of Newport Beach was ordered Monday to take the boom out of service while public works authorities sought permission from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to renew its contract. Complicating matters, the board canceled its scheduled weekly meeting Tuesday because several members had traveled to Washington to attend the presidential inauguration, and authorities said they might not be able to resume boom service until early February.
In the meantime, the first in a series of thunderstorms was expected to rumble into the region tonight, loading up Long Beach storm runoff defenses in popular resort destinations, such as Rainbow Harbor, with more trash than expected.
“A storm’s worth of debris is going to go into the sea because the boom will not be deployed this weekend,” said Kerjon Lee, spokesman for the county watershed management division. “We’re looking for the public to put trash in its proper place. That would go a long way toward alleviating these issues.”
Frey Environmental spokesman Joe Frey declined to comment except to say, “The county has asked that we not harvest trash currently.”
Mark Abramson, director of watershed programs for the environmental group Santa Monica Baykeeper, expressed dismay over the problem.
“It is ludicrous that after all the promises made by the county about clean water,” he said, “they can’t find a small amount of money to extend this boom service at least through the current storm. I believe they could do it if they really wanted to, and it’s sickening that they would not.”
Much of the trash caught by the boom is vegetation uprooted by storm surges throughout the 834-square-mile Los Angeles River Watershed, which covers 44 cities and unincorporated communities and a population of about 9 million people. Also flowing down the 51-mile-long, largely paved river, however, are tons of fast-food wrappers, beer cans, cigarette butts, toys, Styrofoam cups, plastic bags and more.
Since 2006, Frey has captured and removed 1,847 tons of trash in the Los Angeles River site at a cost to the county of about $2.2 million, Lee said. Now, county public works authorities are seeking $750,000 needed to continue the service through this fiscal year.
Tom Leary, who is in charge of Long Beach’s storm water division, described the temporary loss of the boom service as “a serious problem. Amid the current fiscal emergency, there’s not a lot of spare cash around to do a Band-Aid fix until they get the contract in order.”
“It will definitely have an impact on marine habitat and sense of community,” Leary said. “But it is also true that the county is a good partner with Long Beach. Each year, it sends us about $500,000 for beach maintenance efforts.”
In any case, he pointed out that the boom in question “has never been the solution” to Long Beach’s urban runoff problem. Each year, the city collects about 4,500 tons of trash and debris from beaches and shorelines within its jurisdiction.
-- Louis Sahagun
Photo: Garbage could pile up in Long Beach if the rain has its way. Credit: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times