Paula Lee has finally arrived.

Nearly five months after a joint pact with the federal government to transport sludge from Marina del Rey Harbor to the Port of Long Beach and Dockweiler State Beach in Playa del Rey was approved, a long- awaited dredging project hailed by Los Angeles County officials as a multi-faceted venture has begun with the appearance of a 2,000-ton barge.

At an April 5 press conference in Marina del Rey, Fourth District County Supervisor Don Knabe was joined by members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to announce the arrival of the bucket dredge Paula Lee, the lady at the center of the ambitious project that has won the support of two government agencies as well as environmental groups.

“I had no idea that dredges had names,” Knabe, who represents Marina del Rey, quipped.

Flanked by representatives of various government agencies against the backdrop of the barge scooping out sediment from the ocean in the distance, the supervisor spoke about a unique collaboration at different levels of government that will be a benefit to the boating public as well as address an important environmental concern.

“Today’s a special day for a lot of us,” Knabe told reporters at the press conference. “We’ve been working on this for a very long time and I’d like to thank our partners for a very innovative partnership between government agencies.”

The county Board of Supervisors approved the joint venture Nov. 15. County officials say the $13-million project will provide approximately 14,000 jobs.

Approximately 760,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment will be removed from the Marina del Rey Harbor entrance and transported by barge to the Port of Long Beach for a redevelopment project. In addition, approximately 140,000 cubic yards of clean sediment will be moved offshore to Dockweiler and up to 75,000 cubic yards will be pumped onto Redondo Beach to address beach erosion.

The Santa Monica-based environmental organization Heal the Bay backs the dredging operation to redistribute silt to Dockweiler and Redondo beaches.

“This disposal method for beach renourishment is something that we really support,” said Susie Santalena, an environmental engineer in water quality with Heal the Bay.

Dredging the harbor entrance will also help recreational boaters who anchor in the Marina, county authorities said.

“We’ve had a problem on and off over the years with sediment building up and reaching the point that it’s a safety issue for the first responders as well as recreational boaters,” the supervisor said.

Officials at the county Department of Beaches and Harbors say boaters who cruise the harbor have complained to them how difficult it is at times to maneuver in the harbor’s entrances.

“Sand builds up and is funneled into smaller areas, and less skilled and less experienced boaters have more difficulty maneuvering in the harbor,” Beaches and Harbors Chief Deputy Director Kerry Silverstrom explained in an earlier interview.

Lt. Reggie Gautt of the Marina del Rey Sheriff’s Department told reporters that law enforcement vessels have also had trouble navigating in the channel’s waters at times due to the buildup.

“Our ability to respond to Homeland Security issues and public safety matters were significantly impacted as the result of sediment that was in both of the entrances of our channel,” said Gautt, who is also the Marina sheriff’s harbormaster. “At times the water level leading into our channel was two feet (deep), which affected our vessels.

“This project will now allow us to deal with this issue in a timely manner.”

Initially, Heal the Bay was concerned that the sediment removed from the Marina might be contaminated. The group contacted the California Coastal Commission, which worked with the environmental organization to request that the federal government conduct additional tests to make sure that the sand headed to Dockweiler and Redondo Beach is not contaminated.

“Some of where the dredging project will occur is near an outlet to Ballona Creek, so we were worried that there might be sediment that is unsafe going to the beaches,” Santalena explained. “We are now confident that the sediment that they want to put on the beaches is clean.”

The Paula Lee, which recently completed a dredging project in Oakland, will work around the clock, seven days a week until the project is completed, with late summer as a target date, according to county officials.

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