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On the Harbor: Catching up with Harbormaster Paul Blank


As winter approaches, I start to look back on the year, and to prepare for the new year. Very similar to looking aft while sailing downwind in a sailboat race. Doing this will keep you aware of the changing conditions. With this in mind, I checked back in with Harbormaster Paul Blank this last week.

This is Part 1 in a two-part series.

On the Harbor Paul Blank

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Len Bose

Harbormaster Paul Blank

Q: From a distance it seemed like a quiet year, no oil spills, tsunamis, down aircraft. So what did I miss?

A: There were a couple of severe weather (wind and rain) events this year. We revived the technology we use to notify mooring permittees of approaching weather and urge them to verify their mooring equipment and lines to ensure all are secure. You may recall, there was considerable attention and communication in anticipation of Hurricane Hilary arriving in August. One other of the severe weather events was a strong Santa Ana which stresses the mooring equipment from a different direction than usual, so we have significant concern about boats staying in place when faced with unusual conditions. All in all, things were fine and we greatly appreciated everyone’s preparedness in the face of these severe events.

A couple of other extraordinary emergencies we dealt with this year included two vessels taking on significant amounts of water and in serious danger of sinking.

Both vessels were wooden and both were of “vintage” age. Because they were in serious danger of sinking, we brought them to Marina Park where we could use shore power to operate pumps that kept them afloat while assessments and plans were made for their disposition. In one case, we were dealing with a less-than-responsible owner and the eventual outcome was that the boat was removed from the harbor and destroyed. In the other case, I am pleased to report a much happier ending. That boat was repaired while at Marina Park sufficiently to return to its mooring a couple of days later. That boat has gone on to pass a full inspection with the Harbor Department permitting the owner to live aboard.

Another emergency response involved an alert – Harbor Department team members identifying a significant amount of discharge into the harbor coming from upland.

The location was near the BCYC and was not bound to the surface, so a containment boom would not have been effective. We contacted the water quality team who promptly came for an inspection and then began an investigation trying to find the source. After more than an hour of searching the water, the quality team identified the source as a broken landscape irrigation pipe on Newport Center Drive which was subsequently staunched when the responsible party was contacted. Fortunately, the runoff was nothing more serious than sediment from some landscaping.

Another incident that started out with potentially disastrous consequences resolved without serious damage or injuries: As one of our patrol boats was exiting the harbor entrance they witnessed a few jet skis driving in circles in front of other larger vessels. One larger vessel honked at the jet skier and kept moving. Five minutes later, we were notified and saw the same jet ski stuck underneath a large catamaran. The jet ski operator was safe with no injuries and the vessel also had limited marks from the incident. After assessing the damage, the jet skier hopped back on his vessel after it was dislodged and both went back to their respective storage locations.

Q: How about an update on dredging?

A. Three different suits involving two defendants (Army Corp of Engineers and City of Newport Beach) are making their way through the courts. The ACE Colonel was here for a tour recently, which we provided. He seemed committed to resolving the suits and moving forward with the project ASAP. There is some optimism the suits will be resolved early in 2024 and the project can get underway in the spring.

Q: And an update on the Pilot Mooring program?

A: I am currently working on responses to the 14 questions or requests for more information the Coastal Commission made based on their initial read through of the application.  he documentation I am preparing will amount to more than 1,000 pages and is taking a considerable amount of my time to compile.

It is hoped the application will get a second review with the Coastal Commission staff early in 2024. The have indicated they want to come for a site visit soon, which we will provide.

Q: Earlier this year you talked about training programs, and working with many different agencies. Has everything gone as planned, what have you learned?

A: The Harbor Department has engaged in a significant amount of training in 2023, both as a team here in Newport and with some team members attending training in other locations. Here locally we engaged in our own spill response drill right after Labor Day. The drill was a surprise that took place during a scheduled “All Hands” meeting and was very successful. We also did a joint training session and preparedness assessment with the California National Guard Marine Command (MARCOM) that proved very beneficial for all involved.

On the Harbor spill drill

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy of Harbormaster Paul Blank

Harbor Service worker Charles Lebano and Code Enforcement Officer Jeffrey Goldfarb are bringing the spill boom off the dock onto the patrol boat to deploy

The Harbor Department was also well represented at the following conferences and training sessions:

–California Association of Code Enforcement Officers

–California Association of Marine Safety Officers

–Recreational Marina Association

–Association of Marina Industries (National Trade Group)

On Tuesday, Dec. 5, Part 2 covers: What’s new at Marina Park, Harbor objectives and more on Harbor Code enforcement.


Len Bose is a yachting enthusiast, yacht broker and harbor columnist for Stu News Newport.

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