As the shoal in the north entrance of Marina del Rey slowly grows, the passageway narrows and the potential for incident increases accordingly.

With every storm or significant ocean movement the seafloor sands shift and build, forming what is essentially becoming a small island extending from the north jetty.

During low tide, waves commonly break in this area, where they rarely did before.

“The north entrance is about 50 percent closed,” said Marina del Rey harbormaster Lt. Greg Nelson. “There’s about three feet of water — it’s almost like a beach out there sometimes at low tide.

“We keep moving the buoys out to prevent people from going aground — it’s a definite problem.”

The shoaling, on both the north and south sides, is a problem that County Board of Supervisors and the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors are trying diligently to address.

Last week, District Four Supervisor Don Knabe attended a meeting with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the White House Department of Inner Governmental Affairs to discuss the agreement that the Corps of Engineers made regarding funds for a dredging project that was supposed to take place around this time.

With fiscal priorities allocated for unexpected national problems and disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the war in Iraq, Knabe is afraid there is a danger that the dredging might be under-prioritized or, in the worst case, swept under the carpet.

His mission was to make clear to these agencies that the Marina project was not a pleasure harbor hoping to spruce up its appearance, but an integral coastal outpost prepared to aid and assist in any ocean-related situation.

“The bottom line about keeping this entrance open is that we don’t just have pleasure craft in Marina del Rey,” said David Sommers, press deputy to Knabe.

“We have fireboats and vessels specially outfitted for emergencies and disasters.

“If a plane were to go down into the ocean off LAX, we have to make sure that this navigation channel is open for homeland security issues.”

Knabe left last week’s meeting optimistic about getting the dredging funded, but he won’t know anything definitive until appropriations are handled in early October.

“The supervisor felt very confident that they understood the importance of getting those entrances completely cleared out,” said Sommers.

The Department of Beaches and Harbors shares the issue with Knabe and, while they are aware of the federal government’s conundrum, they are concerned that the project won’t get the proper attention they feel it deserves.

“The Marina is a federal channel. Therefore it’s the Corps of Engineers’ obligation to maintain the navigability of it on at least a five year cycle,” said Beaches and Harbors chief of Environmental Services Joe Chesler. “We are in the sixth year since the last dredging event.”

Chesler added, “The Corps of Engineers is desperately seeking to balance the civil works needs here in the United States against the disaster/recovery needs, and recreational harbors don’t always fare as the greatest priority when it comes to available dollars.”

The cost of the project should be approximately $7.99 million, although there have been reports of it costing as much as $16.4 million.

According to Chesler, one of the keys to keeping the costs low would be to take care of the dredging all at once, as opposed to an incremental process.

With its financial woes in mind, the Corps of Engineers has offered a smaller sum of $1.46 million, but the county feels that this amount would pay only for a Band-Aid to a problem that deserves more resources.

“If this is not completed as one project, there’s the potential for the cost to go as high as $16 million,” said Chesler. “We believe, and the economics show, that it would be better to do one project every five years instead of an incremental project which could involve substantially more costs in mobilizing and disposing of the contaminated sediment — it would be much more expensive on an incremental basis.”

In October, both Knabe and the Department of Beaches and Harbors should receive word on allocations and will find out how much of the dredging project can be completed.

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