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The proposed Newport CAD facility would jeopardize marine life and put Newport Bay at risk of contamination due to an insufficiently thin layer of sediment atop toxic chemicals.

Orange County Coastkeeper has demanded the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the City of Newport Beach take further action to protect Newport Bay and its biota from the disposal of dredged, contaminated sediment in the City’s proposed Confined Aquatic Disposal (CAD) facility.

The City of Newport Beach proposed the CAD facility to address underwater sediment buildup in the harbor’s main channel. Samples of the polluted sediment showed exceedances too high in mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) to qualify for disposal in the EPA-approved offshore dump site known as LA-3.

In partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the City plans to dredge areas of Newport Bay and bury the removed sediment in a hole under the harbor’s turning basin. Because the dredged material is highly polluted with toxic chemicals, the City will eventually cover the hole with layers of less contaminated sediment to act as a partial barrier.

On January 5, 2023, Coastkeeper sent the Army Corps a 60-day notice of intent to file a lawsuit for failing to consider the project’s potential impacts on federally threatened species. Under the Endangered Species Act, the Army Corps was obligated to consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service about the project’s effects on certain species, including green sea turtles.

Though still recovering from historic overharvesting, green sea turtles are present in many Southern California waterways, particularly those rich in seagrass like Newport Bay. Green sea turtles have been sighted in Newport Bay in recent years, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration expects Southern California will see green sea turtles more frequently in the near future.

Coastkeeper first expressed its Endangered Species Act concerns to the Army Corps in early 2022 through the National Environmental Policy Act public comment process. The letter also addressed the Army Corps’ failure to adequately consider, among other things: (i) project alternatives such as remediation, (ii) a thicker interim cap layer to better protect against the escape of toxic pollutants, and (iii) impacts on marine mammals, including dolphin species known to enter Newport Bay. The Army Corps did not consider these comments before drafting its final Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact for the project.

“The Endangered Species Act provides a means of conserving the ecosystems upon which endangered and threatened species depend, as well as a program for conserving the species themselves. Dredging and burying contaminated sediment in eelgrass-rich Newport Bay puts the ecosystem at risk. Unfortunately, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ignored the resource agencies that protect natural spaces and wildlife, neglected their duty to consult with the recourse agencies under the Endangered Species Act, and failed to engage the public earnestly and respond to Coastkeeper’s concerns,” said Lauren Chase, staff attorney at Orange County Coastkeeper. “This is just the latest example of poor oversight in this project’s improper development.”

Coastkeeper hopes the Army Corps and City will correct the project’s inadequacies for the health of Newport Bay; however, Coastkeeper is prepared to take legal action if not.