The inflatable lifts would keep boats about 18 inches off the water and are compatible with most vessels up to 50 feet long Photo courtesy of Air-Dock

The inflatable lifts would keep boats about 18 inches off the water and are compatible with most vessels up to 50 feet long. Photo courtesy of Air-Dock.

Inflatables could help solve Marina del Rey’s copper pollution problem

By Gary Walker

Los Angeles County officials may soon be offering Marina del Rey boat owners a lift.

Faced with a federal mandate to reduce the high level of copper contamination in Marina del Rey harbor — the primary cause thought to be metallic boat paint in contact with water — the L.A. County Dept. of Beaches and Harbors has applied for a $400,000 state grant to subsidize purchases of inflatable boat lifts that would keep vessels above the water’s surface while docked.

“The use of the boat lifts will keep the boat hulls out of the water, thereby contributing to the reduction of copper from hull paints leaching into the water,” Beaches and Harbors spokeswoman Carol Baker said.

The inflatable lifts would keep boats about 18 inches above the surface and are compatible with most vessels up to 50 feet long.

The county has chosen Air-Dock, a company in St. Petersburg, Fla., to supply the boat lifts.

An alternating current (AC) 110-volt inflatable control unit with an electric blower is used to inflate the lifts, Air-Dock owner Ken Moody said.

“It’s similar to a raft and has three collapsible chambers. They have tremendous lift capacity,” Moody said, adding that the lifts work with high-performance boats as well as sailboats with retractable keels.

Baker said grant funds likely won’t be disbursed until 2017. Because there will be costs to county lessees in the marina, the first lifts will likely be deployed at county-owned Anchorage 47 (at 13575 Mindanao Way), she said.

In February 2014, the state-run Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board ordered the county to lower the amount of copper residue in the harbor by 85% over the next decade. Under the federal Clean Water Act, state agencies can take action to limit the acceptable total maximum daily load, or TMDL, of toxins in a specific body of water.
A 2009 California EPA study found that Marina del Rey had the highest level of dissolved copper levels of 23 harbors that were tested.

Following approvals by two other state agencies, the federal EPA approved the TMDL mandate on Oct. 15, said Cheryl Burnett, a spokeswoman for Supervisor Don Knabe.

Greg Schem, owner of The Boat Yard in Marina del Rey, agrees with seeking grant money to improve conditions in the harbor but is not convinced that boat lifts are the answer.

“The challenge is to use the grant money in a way that is going to help [boaters]. With these lifts, all you’re doing is transferring the copper from the bottom of the boat to the lift,” he said.
Schem believes using paint with a lower level of copper leaching would be more effective than purchasing inflatable boat lifts.

“I use it on my boat and at The Boat Yard we encourage all of our clients to use it. We’re seeing a shift toward using this paint with lower leaching levels,” he said.

When copper cleanup mandates were first being discussed in 2014, Schem and many boaters complained that repainting boats could be cost-prohibitive for boat owners and were dubious about the availability and effectiveness of 100% copper-free paints.

King Harbor Marina Dockmaster Michael Aaker said he has seen very few boat owners in the Redondo Beach marina use the inflatable lifts.

“The ones that I’ve seen seem to deflate a lot. I remember two tenants used them, but I haven’t seen any others for a long time,” he said.

County officials are planning major studies on dissolved copper toxicity and on contaminated sediment toxicity in Marina del Rey harbor. Tentative approval has been received for the sediment study, and sampling and analysis is expected to start by the end of January. The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board’s approval is required for both.

Baker said the public will be invited to weigh in about a work plan for the water quality study before it goes before the water quality control board.

Editor’s Note: This story has been corrected to state that the county has applied for, not obtained, the grant.