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Posted by Ken Kurtis on December 02, 2012 at 18:22:04:

The Vets Park update is pretty simple: It's still dirty. But it's getting better. Thanks to the efforts of Roc Allen (L.A. County Instructor) and Claudette Dorsey, there have been weekly cleanup dives that have already pulled out close to 200 pounds of trash. Now bear in mind that when we say "trash," most of this is shredded plastic/paper/etc. That doesn't weigh very much. So 200 pounds in weight is a tremendous amount in volume. And more stuff is coming up each day so the trash situation is getting better. (And we know there are some individual divers who are bringing stuff up as well.)

More cleanups (usually on Wednesday nights) are scheduled. If you're going out on your own, our thought/request is to just pick up trash & garbage. If it's organic, leave it there. And if you're bringing up things like bottles or cans, please make sure that someone hasn't moved in and adopted it as a home. If there's an animal inside, leave it on the bottom.

I did a survey dive last Wednesday afternoon (before the storms hit) straight out from Middle Stairs (200 yards south of the Pier) with Tim Balcomb of Ocean Adventures. We ran down to the base of the slope and then followed that contour almost all the way to the Topaz Jetty/Groin, a distance of another 665 yards. (In case you're wondering about the accuracy of the distances, I measured them all with my Bushnell golf laser rangefinder.) There was definitely trash here and there but what was most troubling was that blackish gunk that now covers much of the bottom along with a lot of organic (mostly kelp) debris that also seems to coat much of the area from 40-70' deep, pretty much the entire length of our 36-minute dive/swim.

Knowing that was all down there, it made our attendance at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Contaminated Sediment Task Force (CSTF) meeting last Wednesday morning (the survey dive actually came out of a request during the meeting as to how extensive the debris area is) all the more interesting. Understand that this isn't a public meeting but one that we were allowed/invited to attend and that's appreciated. I went and spoke, as did Roc Allen. (Kathryn Kempton was also there but in her capacity as NOAA legal counsel. Susie Santilena from Heal the Bay was also attending.)

That this group is comprised of people from the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE), NOAA, EPA, CA Coastal Commission, various Water Boards with regulatory and supervisory jurisdiction, and others. The folks collectively are the ones who issue the various permits needed for the dredging and sand placement process, as well as those charged with overseeing the implementation of the permit, as well as overseeing the protection of our oceans. So a good mix of the "right" folks.

We had sent "The Trashing of Veterans Park" video to the group ahead of time (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rPUctdS-cCE) and it seems to have gotten a number of views as the YouTube count was around 250 when the meeting started. The meeting, with about two dozen people in attendance and at least that many on the phone through a group conference call, started with the ACE folks explaining what the operation was intended to be. That was followed by NOAA explaining that they had done a survey dive as a result of our complaints, and pretty much found the same types of things that we had found.

Then they allowed us to speak to give the whole thing from the perspective of the dive community. I explained that we had no real issue with the sand placed on the shoreline and that we assumed everything either came from the sand placed in the offshore temporary storage area (which is supposed to be just south of Topaz) or that it was materials leaking out of the barge before stuff got pumped to the onshore site.

I have to honestly say that we didn't know what to expect when we walked into the meeting. A few people there, especially those directly involved with the sand nourishment project, were a little defensive, and that's understandable. The hardest thing in all of this, from an evidentiary standpoint, is establishing a positive direct connection between the trash on the bottom and the barge operation on the surface. But even though some were defensive, they weren't overly so and all seemed at least receptive to the idea that things hadn't gone as planned and this whole situation could possibly have been avoided with some better planning and oversight.

Some things we learned during the meeting:
They had very specific protocols for placement of sand on the shore but essentially had no such protocols for anything dropped into the ocean
They didn't do any kind of an underwater survey prior to the start to establish a baseline of what things looked like
They didn't have anyone actually go underwater during the operation to see what was what
They checked for trash and such on the surface but freely admitted that they couldn't see anything if it was underwater
All sand deposited was "clean". Even so, their filters on the pipe to the beach had to be cleaned two or three times a day due to getting clogged with trash.
Sand dumped offshore in the temp holding area went through no such filter but was the same type of sand.
Their assumption is that when they dump sand it all falls directly to the bottom but no one watches to ensure that's the case.
They were unaware that the place is frequently dove and that they were close enough to have an impact.
They were unaware that it's a squid mating area (which can have a negative financial impact if the squid grounds are destroyed by silt).

I said that there were two things from a diving community standpoint that we'd like to walk away with: (1) Create better lines of communication between them and the dive industry so we don't go through this again, and (2) Explore what mitigation options (fines, restitution, etc.) are available as a result of the outcome of the dredging/dumping process.

The first idea they all endorsed whole-heartedly. Although many of their projects don't impact dive areas, some do and just to get them to include us in the pipeline is a win. The second one is going to take a lot more talking, evidence, and finesse. But it's something that we will continue to pursue.

What will help the second goal is any personal experiences any of you have had with this project in terms of how it impacted your diving. Canceled dives, lessened enjoyment, gunk in the water, etc. Just write what you know or saw. The idea here is not to be too judgmental. If you're willing, write down what your experience was, document dates if you can, and send it to me at kenkurtis@aol.com . The more first-hand accounts we have, the better.

So that's where things stand now. There are some other things going on in a low-key back-channel manner that will hopefully help us achieve our goals in all of this. If you have any questions, let me know.

- Ken

Ken Kurtis
Owner, Reef Seekers Dive Co.
Beverly Hills, CA 90213
(310) 652-4990

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