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LA commander visits shoreline communities, meets with local governments

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District commander Col. Julie Balten and Santa Barbara harbor master Mike Wiltshire discuss an ongoing dredging project aboard a harbor patrol boat May 23 en route to dredger Sandpiper in Santa Barbara, California. Balten met with harbor officials as part of a tour of Corps coastal projects May 22-25.

Posted on June 14, 2023

Reaching out to the coastal communities in Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District commander Col. Julie Balten and her team met with local officials May 22-25 along California’s “Gold Coast” — from Channel Islands to Morro Bay.

The outreach to the Corps’ partners was to review harbor and beach projects supported by Corps’ Los Angeles District.


The journey began May 22 at an office visit on the water’s edge with Channel Islands Harbor District at Oxnard, California. Channel Islands is the fifth largest harbor for small-craft recreation in the state. The harbor was formed in 1960 by the Corps, which continues a long partnership with the community to regularly dredge and maintain its channels.

Most recently, the LA District, along with its contractor, Connolly Pacific, conducted repairs in 2021 to two parallel entrance jetties and the protective offshore breakwater near the harbor entrance.

Harbor director Michael Tripp displayed detailed photographic maps for Balten and Steve Dwyer, LA District Navigation Branch chief, to illustrate how sand shifting from tides and storm drifts require regular maintenance work on the breakwater and entrance channel, and how the recent repairs affected navigation. The project was necessary to ensure navigational safety and to prevent further degradation of the structural integrity of the jetties and breakwater.


Departing Channel Islands, the team met at Ventura Beach to meet with representatives of Ventura Harbor.

Victor Andreas, LA District project manager, who has been engineering coastal navigation solutions for five years, said that dredging material from Ventura Harbor not only helps navigation, but that material also is used to replenish beaches south of Port Hueneme, home to a major U.S. Navy port.

Ventura Harbor is dredged every two years, with the next dredging cycle scheduled for September 2024.

During a May 22 meeting in Oxnard, California, Channel Islands Harbor director Michael Tripp uses photographic maps to illustrate how sand filling the channel from tides and storms requires regular maintenance work on the breakwater and entrance channel, and how the severe winter storms affected navigation. Listening to Tripp are Col. Julie Balten, right, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District commander, and Steve Dwyer, LA District Navigation Branch chief.

The 2022 dredging cycle went “very smoothly,” according to the City of Ventura, and the sand that annually accumulates in the entrance of the harbor replenished beaches to the south of it, which also assisted with maintaining crucial habitat near the Santa Clara River.

“This is an opportunity to see the great work the Army Corps did here on behalf of the Ventura Port District in providing navigational dredging that is needed every year here to keep our commercial fishing operations moving in and out of the harbor,” said Brian Pendleton, Ventura Harbor general manager, adding the 475,000 cubic yards of sand dredged this year was a significant amount. “This harbor, in particular, is home to the largest commercial fishing fleet in the state. From one year to the next, it offloads the largest amount of California market squid. All of our calamari, as you call it, comes through this harbor, so the economic impact of this harbor, in terms of the commercial fishing industry, can’t be underestimated.”

“Thirty-five million dollars’ worth of squid landed here last year,” added Todd Mitchell, Ventura Harbor senior business operations manager.

It is valuable to work closely with the LA District and its contractor, Manson Construction, Mitchell said, adding the work has been “exceptional” following the strong winter storms that were especially tough on beaches.

Before meeting with the Ventura County Watershed Protection District, Balten stopped to meet with Spencer MacNeil, deputy chief of the LA District’s Regulatory Division, and his team at the Ventura office, where she awarded challenge coins in recognition of their work.

Balten was joined by Darrell Buxton, LA District chief of Civil Works, at the Ventura County Watershed Protection District to meet with director Glenn Shephard and assistant director David Fleish to discuss the Ventura River, local creeks and future projects.

The Corps recently evaluated subsurface conditions and prepared shoring and slope stability recommendations in support of a proposed validation dig on the existing L-1004 gas pipeline, located southwest of the intersection of State Route 33 and Stanley Avenue in Ventura.


On the morning of May 23, under a heavy coastal marine layer, the team met with Carpinteria city officials at low tide on its freshly groomed beach.

Rock cobble was washed downstream from creeks into the Pacific and required maintenance following big winter storms. The beach had been leveled, raked and cleared of rocks that were deposited at one point that stood out on the otherwise smooth shoreline.

Matt Roberts, director of the Carpinteria Parks, Recreation and Public Facilities, explained how the beach is protected by debris basins, set up along the coast in the 1970s, after a major storm in 1969. The basins are maintained by digging them out and exporting the sediment to upland disposal sites.

“The whole winter berm project was actually developed from a recommendation by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under FEMA that we do a programmatic response, rather than an emergency response, so we began building the berm as a planned and permanent process,” Roberts said.

The city decided the best environmental and economic solution to nourish the beach was to use materials from a debris basin, located two miles north of the beach. This both clears the basin, the primary concern, and provides beach nourishment. Previously, material came from a location 50 miles away.

“I’m hoping we can get started here on the (Continuing Authorities Program) and find solutions – an array of alternatives that we can implement here and recommend a project,” said Susie Ming, chief of the LA District’s Coastal Section, Programs and Project Management Division.


The final meeting of the day in Santa Barbara included a harbor patrol cruise to see the all-electric cutter-head suction dredge Sandpiper, dredging sediment from the federal navigation channels at Santa Barbara Harbor.

The busy harbor is dredged to a depth of 35 feet in six sessions biannually in the spring and fall, removing about 120,000 cubic yards of sediment per cycle. According to the city, annual dredging began in 1972, but shoaling and sediment collection at the bottom of the harbor can be traced back to the late 1920s.

The LA District, along with its contractor, Pacific Dredge & Construction, conducted emergency dredging to remove more than 30,000 cubic yards of sand from the harbor entrance in January to restore full access of the channel. Emergency dredging was necessary after excess sand entered the harbor from winter storms.

During the current dredging cycle, about another 150,000 cubic yards of material is expected to be removed. The dredge material is then placed on down-coast beaches.


On May 24, Balten and Dwyer joined Brian Kim, a project manager with the district’s Navigation Branch, to meet with leaders from the Port San Luis Harbor District, which oversees the small-craft harbor near the coastal community of Avila Beach and sits about 10 miles from San Luis Obispo.

The LA District is managing a project to repair the port’s breakwater, which was originally constructed between 1889 and 1913 to protect the harbor and its small-craft marine facilities from heavy surf and waves. The breakwater, which has undergone repairs and maintenance previously in its 110-year history, was damaged during an earthquake about 10 years ago. Funding to repair the structure was secured about two years ago, Dwyer said, and the current project is roughly halfway complete.

This project has required extra care, Dwyer added, such as the need to work carefully near the local endangered and protected species, including a sea lion rookery in the immediate area. Also, although the district started the project in 2022, they suspended work this past winter due to high seas.

“I expect it to start up again sometime very soon,” Dwyer added.


The group met later that day with officials from the City of Morro Bay, which is partnering with the LA District on the ongoing dredging project at the bay’s entrance and Navy channels using the Portland District’s U.S. Army Vessel Yaquina hopper dredge.

“It was great to see that active dredge project in person,” Balten said. “Not everything we do may always look exciting, but you know what they’re doing is critical. It was just another great opportunity to see our work in action, to really understand the benefits of those projects and to talk about future projects and future cycles of these continuous projects that we do on an annual basis.”


For the last stop of the tour, Buxton joined Balten again in Santa Barbara, this time to meet with partners with the Santa Barbara County Flood Control and Water Conservation District.

The two LA District leaders discussed current projects and challenges, such as possible assistance with recent flooding in nearby Guadalupe and the resulting divergence of the Santa Maria River, potential work on the Santa Maria Levy and the way forward on the lower Mission Creek project that runs through the heart of Santa Barbara.

Although not all these issues had reached decision points by the end of the in-person meeting, the consensus was that communicating with one another candidly and transparently about what support each partner at the table may and may not be able to provide is paramount.

“The best thing about our relationship, is that we have open, transparent communication,” said Scott McGolpin, director of the Santa Barbara County Department of Public Works. “That’s why we have been so successful in the Flood Control District.”

Balten agreed.

“If we’re clear about what we’re able to do, what the parameters are and are always looking for innovative ways for what those parameters look like, and knowing there’s always opportunities to explore those,” she said, “It’s a win-win opportunity to strengthen our relationship.”


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