Without Earmarks Newport Harbor Would ‘Become a Meadow’

Newport Beach officials say that federal money set aside by lawmakers for local projects -- a practice known as earmarking -- is the only way Newport Harbor will get its needed dredging.

Pledges against earmarks might make for good politics, but they don’t keep the silt out of Newport Harbor, say Newport Beach city officials.

The officials say the city needs the Army Corps of Engineers to get about $23 million to clear out a navigational channel built in the 1930s.

Democrats Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Loretta Sanchez are stepping in for Orange County’s five GOP representatives who joined the rest of the congressional Republicans this year in refusing to seek earmarks for projects in their districts.

“We respect [the pledge]”, said Councilwoman Leslie Daigle, a Republican. (But) “the city aggressively seeks congressionally-directed spending.”

That’s the official government term for earmarks, money in the federal budget specifically set aside for local projects sponsored by senators or House members.

This week we’ve been looking into the impacts of the no earmarks pledge with the help of this database compiled by the website LegiStorm. The database, for example, shows that $85 million in earmarks were sponsored soley by one of the county’s Republican congressmen from fiscal 2008 through fiscal 2010.

The 40-foot wide, 20-foot deep channel runs from the mouth of the harbor, under the route of the Balboa Ferry, up between Lido and Balboa Islands and ends near the point where Newport Boulevard crosses Pacific Coast Highway.

The Coast Guard uses the channel and so do big yachts and harbor tour boats. The whole bay system would “become a meadow if it isn’t dredged,” said City Manager David Kiff.

Kiff said Feinstein earmarked $23 million for the dredging in the Senate version of this year’s budget and Sanchez put in for about $6 million in the House. After the budget bill goes through a conference committee, the city will learn how much money the Corps of Engineers will have to work with this year.

“We don’t see Newport Bay as a partisan issue,” Daigle said.

If you have any thoughts on the no earmarks pledge, please email me at twood@voiceofoc.org

— TRACY WOOD

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