Taking a major step in a decades-long process, the county moved forward this week toward an ambitious and at times controversial plan to revitalize Dana Point Harbor.

Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to certify an updated final environmental impact report for the project.

The plan calls for renovating the harbor’s docks, buildings, parking and amenities, with construction expected to take eight to 12 years. Building likely wouldn’t begin for at least several months, officials said; the project needs a coastal development permit from the state and more funding.

The final report cites a handful of unavoidable environmental effects of the project, including blocked views from a boat storage building and construction noise and emissions.

Stakeholders include boaters, local residents and tourists, who at times have disagreed over aspects of the plan.

“I think the merchants have put the cart before the horse,” said boater Chuck Hornsby. “I think we deserve a little fairer treatment than we’re getting.”

Despite their differences over the plan, most speakers agreed it’s time to upgrade the docks.

“It’s past time to fully repair and replace our docks,” said James Lenthall, vice president of the Dana Point Boaters Association.

“She is showing signs of age,” added harbor director Brad Gross. He said the county’s held more than 150 outreach meetings on the issue since 2002. Planning started even earlier in 1997.

One point of contention is how many boat slips could be eliminated. Gross said that boaters do not object to removal of 209 boat slips but that the California Coastal Commission staff reduced the maximum loss to 155.

Even if the harbor loses 155 slips, Gross said, the project still wouldn’t evict any boaters. There’s been about 180 vacancies for the last four years, he said.

“We are going to accommodate as best we can a zero slip loss,” said Gross.

The upgrades will include making each type of dock accessible to people with disabilities, he added.

Another proposal being considered is submerging a ship offshore to create an artificial reef.

The move would reduce cost for the county, Gross said, describing it as a “great concept.”

An earlier idea to put docks in front of part of the treasured Baby Beach has been nixed since last year, when critics described it as a safety hazard.

Supervisor Shawn Nelson emphasized that this is a regional project, not one to enhance just the lives of boaters.

“Everybody owns the harbor,” said Nelson. “Nobody has rights that trumps anyone else’s.”

Supervisor Pat Bates described it as the most significant infrastructure project the county will undertake in the next few years. She encouraged staff to continue “extreme” outreach to the community as the project moves forward.

You can reach Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

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