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Federal money earmarked for Newport Beach dredging project [Updated]

April 29, 2009 |  2:06 pm

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ share of federal stimulus money includes $17.36 million in long- awaited funds to bring to completion a dredging project to prevent mud-choked Upper Newport Bay from turning into a meadow, local officials said today.

The funding is part of nearly $184 million in stimulus allocations announced by the Corps’ Los Angeles district, which covers 226,000 square miles in Southern California, Arizona, Southern Nevada and a small part of Utah.

Mud flats, fed by sediment that washes into Upper Newport Bay via the San Diego Creek, have been building up in the ecologically important estuary for years, greatly reducing the water level. The reserve became so choked with sediment and growth that coyotes and other predators could walk across to what had been small islands, disturbing nests and eating eggs, including those of the endangered least tern. Tons of silt have also been spilling from the upper bay into the lower bay, grounding vessels in the Newport Beach marina.

Dredging crews began work in October 2005 to remove about 2.3 million cubic yards of built-up muck, but funding started running out about halfway into the project, said Dave Kiff, assistant city manager for Newport Beach. The Army Corps of Engineers, which is the lead agency on the project, was supposed to cover 65% of the estimated $38.5-million cost, with state and local agencies providing the rest. Local authorities funded their $13.5-million share with money raised for coastal protection under Proposition12 of 2000, Kiff said.

Until now, however, Congress had only appropriated about $14 million of the approximately $25-million federal share. In the meantime, the costs ballooned to a projected $48 million, driven in part by rising fuel expenses, Kiff said. [Updated at 4:40 p.m.: The Army Corps of Engineers said this afternoon that the numbers are higher. Before now, Corps officials said, Congress had appropriated $17.5 million of the roughly $25 million federal share. In the meantime, the Corps estimates that the cost to complete the project has grown to more than $50 million.] Together with some additional local funding, Kiff said the new federal money should be sufficient to bring the project to completion by the summer of 2010.

 “We are very excited,” he said. “It’s a little ironic that it took a recession and stimulus package for the government to complete its share.”

-- Alexandra Zavis