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Community forum highlights projects on the water: Mooring field pilot program, trash-collecting water wheel

By SARA HALL

A community forum this week focused on harbor and bay issues, highlighting two projects that will have significant impact on the water.

Keynote speakers at the Speak Up Newport meeting held on Wednesday (June 14) presented information on the recently approved open water initiative (a pilot program to reconfigure one mooring field in Newport Harbor) and an update to the Newport Bay trash-collecting water wheel project.

About 40 people attended in-person in the Community Room at the Civic Center, while more watched the livestream online.

Former Harbor Commission Chair and current Newport Harbor Foundation Board Member Bill Kenney spoke about the mooring field program.

City Council unanimously approved the pilot project on May 23. Councilmembers voted 7-0 in support of the ordinance that would amend Title 17 (the city’s harbor code) related to mooring standards and permits. The approved action, stemming from Harbor Commission recommendations, will reconfigure mooring field C, which sits between Bay Island and the Balboa Peninsula ferry station.

On Wednesday, Kenney said he’s the “substitute teacher” on the topic, as the expert, current Harbor Commissioner Ira Beer, was in a meeting.

“There are those that are in favor of the open water initiative and there are some that are opposed,” said Kenney, who added that he would present the topic from a nonpartisan standpoint.

The contentious item prompted hundreds of emails and comments and a packed council chambers at the May meeting. More than two dozen people spoke during public comment, many who own mooring permits. A majority of the speakers opposed the project.

The pilot project consists of reconfiguring the C mooring field to double-row moorings, replacing existing single-row moorings and that boats of like sizes be consolidated into the same row(s). To allow for testing of the new layout and for making any necessary adjustments, only one or two rows will be reconfigured initially. The fully completed reconfiguration will include regular inspections from Harbor Department staff as well as interviews with affected permittees and other stakeholders. The relocation of moorings and permittees for the first one or two rows is estimated to take two weeks. Subsequently, the full reconfiguration of the remaining rows in the C field would take approximately 30 days.

Community forum moorings sunset

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Photo by Sara Hall

Council approved a pilot program to reconfigure the mooring fields in Newport Harbor

Kenney went over the history of the moorings, noting that the Orange County Sheriff’s Department Harbor Patrol handled administration of them since the 1970s.

“During that period which the harbor patrol managed the moorings, there were really no policies or procedures dealing with mooring permit transfers, mooring length extensions, or any other changes in the morning fields,” Kenney said. “As a result, the mooring fields became pretty much a haphazard collection of vessels within the prescribed mooring areas themselves.”

After years of discussing the idea, the city finally took over responsibility for the management of the moorings in 2017.

For decades, there have been no guidelines for mooring length extensions, transfers, issues like spreader lines in fairways, Kenney said. The fairways today are “dangerously narrow” and “cluttered,” he added. Current spacing between the boats is an issue. Sharing a photo of the existing conditions, Kenney said the boats that are less than 10 feet will likely have a problem in a weather event.

Kenney shared an aerial image that “shows the randomness of the existing mooring spacing in the C field.” There is currently no uniformity of boat lengths in the rows at mooring field C. Large vessels protrude into fairways and some are moored outside the designated field boundaries, he said.

“You see boats of varying sizes, you see a fairway that’s difficult to see through and difficult to navigate through,” Kenney said.

A Harbor Commission subcommittee worked on recommendations for improvements to the mooring field utilization and a process to accommodate requests from permittees to adjust the size of their permitted moorings. The subcommittee’s focus included ensuring safe navigation for all users of the harbor in and around the mooring fields.

“We all know that our harbor is not going to get any bigger, however the number of users and types of uses are steadily increasing,” Kenney said.

There are all kinds of new devices out there, he said. There are more and more people that are using the harbor, whether it’s in human-powered craft, rental craft, or their own vessels, Kenney said.

One of the subcommittee objectives was to evaluate the current mooring fields and provide a recommendation for new guidelines that better define rows and fairways to improve navigation and safety, and improve optimization of space within the mooring fields, Kenney explained.

A potential solution, according to the Harbor Commission, for improved navigation, safety and creating new open water space, is to go to a double-row configuration as opposed to the current single room mooring configuration. The new system would utilize the available area within the mooring field by grouping like-sized boats together. Mooring permittees will remain in the same mooring field and, to the extent possible, will be in a like-for-like situation, Kenney confirmed.

Community forum water field C

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Rendering courtesy of City of Newport Beach

A rendering of what mooring field C would look like after the pilot project with new double row configuration

Under the new pilot program, the new configuration at field C will provide improved utilization of space. Every row will be in substantial compliance with harbor design standards, with boats spaced 50 to 55 feet on center and fairways ranging from 60 to 100 feet. Row sizes are reduced from as many as seven boats down to five boats. The plan will also add seven new long-term city moorings. It will also add two acres of new open water along the main channel (approximately 1,200 feet by 70 feet). The wider channel will offer greater distance between residential properties and moored boats. Conformance to the engineer’s design specifications will be field verified after completion of the first double row, then the balance of rows will be completed.

According to the Harbor Commission, the new open water initiative is attempting to concurrently make more open space in the waters of Newport Harbor by reducing the footprint of the mooring fields and increasing the safety of navigation within those mooring fields and throughout the harbor, Kenney explained.

He summarized what staff and commissioners listed as the benefits, including improved public access, increased size of navigation channels, wider and more well-defined fairways, increased spacing, more overall room when navigating or departing through the morning field, safer navigation through the mooring fields both for the permittees and for other users of the harbor, and the possibility to add additional moorings within the morning fields.

By implementing the double-row configuration the overall footprint of mooring field C is reduced by two acres, significantly opening up the waters of Newport Harbor, Kenney said. The navigation channel between the mooring field and the docks along Balboa Peninsula will be significantly widened. He also showed “before” and “after” photos of some other mooring fields in the harbor, under current conditions and what they would look like with the double-row configuration.

He shared photos of several mooring fields in Newport Harbor and compared them to moorings in San Diego, known as America’s Cup Harbor. For example, there are about 200 boats in mooring fields H and J which currently covers about 30 acres of water space. Kenney noted a mooring field in the SD harbor that utilizes double rows and takes up approximately 15 acres for 180 boats.

 According to the city’s engineers, similar wind and current conditions exist both in America’s Cup Harbor and Newport Harbor, Kenney pointed out.

“So the benefit here is that we would gain a lot more of the open space waterways,” he said.

Answering an audience question, Kenney said he’s not going to debate the opinion about whether the tides and winds are similar to San Diego, but he will rely on the expert engineers to determine what will work and what won’t.

This is just conceptual, he emphasized. As far as he knows, not all of the mooring fields have been completely mapped out yet. So, the conceptual drawings might show specific lengths in certain spaces, but it might change as they deal with the reality of the program.

“I fully expect, as we go through this process, that the fields will be tweaked,” Kenney said. “I think you’ve got to work through this and take it, literally, a step at a time.”

It’s simply a test, he reiterated, to find out if the new tackle and the double-row system in the C field really do work. If so, the city will decide at that time to move forward.

Some new technology is also being proposed for the tackle, which should significantly mitigate damage to the eel grass, Kenney added. The city has a mandate to maintain a certain acreage of eel grass throughout the harbor, he explained, and it can be a problem because it can be difficult to maintain or repair a dock with eel grass underneath.

Kenney also summarized the substantive changes being proposed by the Harbor Commission: The implementation of policies to deal with requests to extend the length of a permittees mooring; to provide the harbormaster with the ability to take action when a vessel drifts out of its assigned area and creates a navigational hazard; to allow a mooring permittee to convert to a single line mooring with a sandline, which is similar to what’s used at Catalina Island and to create new moorings that will be administered on a lottery system by the city.

To buy a permit today, Kenney estimated it would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,000 to $1,200 per lineal foot or more “just for the right to have a mooring Newport Harbor.” It could cost $50,000 for a 50-foot boat, for example. A lottery system administered by the city is being proposed for the new moorings, he noted.

“So, the permittee won’t have to spend $50,000 to get reasonably cost access to boat storage in Newport Harbor,” Kenney said.

Kenney also pointed out that the project has been discussed at 11 commission hearings and numerous stakeholder meetings.

Community forum trash wheel

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Rendering courtesy of City of Newport Beach

A rendering of a trash-collecting water wheel proposed for San Diego Creek, near Upper Newport Bay (the latest design uses a rail system to remove the mounted trash bin, not a boat as pictured)

At the start of Wednesday’s meeting, Kenney handed over the mic to Public Works Director Dave Webb to provide an update to the innovative floating, trash-collecting water wheel project that is slated to remove litter from the San Diego Creek as it enters Upper Newport Bay. It will be located in the creek (just east of the Jamboree Road bridge) along the northern bank. It will be visible from the road, but likely be colored in an effort to camouflage with the surrounding landscape, Webb noted.

“It’s an exciting project,” he said.

The “funky” design is essentially a traditional water wheel that will “rake” the trash out of the water, haul it up a conveyer built, and dump it into a bin for disposal, Webb explained.

Large volumes of trash and debris, sometimes exceeding 300 cubic yards during heavy storm seasons, flow into the bay from the creek every year.

The water wheel will be a moored vessel that uses booms to direct floating trash to the structure where rotating rakes push the litter onto a conveyor belt that moves the garbage up and into a mounted bin. The creek will turn the water wheel, which in turn powers the conveyer belt (solar power will provide an electrical assist). Trash is emptied into a floating container and transferred to shore via an elevated fixed rail system (instead of by boat like Baltimore’s trash wheel). A garbage truck will access the landside facility and remove the trash.

It’s modeled after Baltimore’s “Mr. Trash Wheel,” which has its own social media and a worldwide following. Although Newport’s system will operate a little differently, Webb noted. In Baltimore, a boat tows the container to a transit station, but a boat cannot enter San Diego Creek, so the city engineers had to create a short, elevated rail system instead, he explained.

Also, the river is constantly flowing in Baltimore, whereas the water here can be a bit stagnant unless the region gets rain storms, Webb added.

The additional rail system added to the overall cost of the project, he noted. Recent construction bids came back high and the city is about $2.7 million “out of our budget zone” at the moment. They also received two grants to help pay for the project, he noted, including a $1.7 million grant from the California Ocean Protection Council, but they are also working on private donations and possible sponsorships.

“We’re looking to close that gap,” Webb said.

Community forum conceptual aerial

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Rendering courtesy of City of Newport Beach

Conceptual photo showing trash interceptor positioned in San Diego Creek, just above entry into the Back Bay

The California Coastal Commission unanimously approved the project on June 9, 2022. At the same time, CCC officials emphasized their strong encouragement for the city to step up and do more in terms of limiting usage of single-use plastic and Styrofoam and stopping a big contributor to the trash problem at the source. Many also mentioned that upstream cities need to do more in this effort as well, but emphasized that Newport should lead the way.

Newport Beach has a “multi-pronged trash reduction approach,” Webb said. It includes the Santa Ana-Delhi Channel full trash capture project, installed catch basin trash screens, city-maintained trash skimmers and annual clean-up events underwater, in the bay, on the beach, and along the channels.

“We have a multitude of things that we’re doing,” Webb said.

They hope to award the contract for the project at the July 11 council meeting so work can get underway this fall. They are required to coordinate with the migratory birds’ schedule, so work in the channel is limited from September to March. Working within the flood control channel during the rainy season makes it a little challenging, he noted.

They hope to begin site work (grading, pile installation, solar power and rail systems) in fall or early winter this year. By winter 2024, they hope to install the trash interceptor.

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Sara Hall covers City Hall and is a regular contributor to Stu News Newport.

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