Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Dredging is final hurdle delaying use of dry docks

Dredging is final hurdle delaying use of dry docks
By JESSICA A. YORK/Times-Herald staff writer
Posted: 01/28/2009

Mare Island's Dry Dock No. 2 is idle now, but that may be about to change. (Mike Jory/Times-Herald)

Mare Island's long unused dry docks could be restored to service by March -- if the company striving to use them for ship dismantling can knock down what a representative says is its final hurdle.

After years vying to reopen the former naval base's potential water-tight dock inlets, the end finally is in sight, said California Dry Dock Solutions President Jay Anast.

Company workers' last big concern involves dredging the Mare Island Strait deep enough for the passage of at least four giant merchant ships. The silt and mud removal permit it needs is subject to approval from the state Department of Toxic Substances Control -- an agency concerned about potentially hazardous mud near the former naval base.

The ships whose passage remains in question are in the federal government's aged "Mothball Fleet," formally the National Defense Reserve Fleet in the Suisun Bay. The ships are considered unretainable and are set to be removed and dismantled. California Dry Dock Solutions, also known as Allied Defense Recycling, has already secured a $4 million-plus federal contract to eradicate the vessels, potentially loaded with toxin-laden paint and internal chemicals that are slowly leaking into the bay.

"The DTSC thinks that there's possible contamination in the waterway (and) they want a profiling, a characterization of the materials that would be dredged," said Anast (last) week. "We've come to an impasse because the additional fees, $1.2 million, is exorbitant."

Charles "Chip" Gribble, Mare Island project manager for DTSC, said his agency has not put the onus of sampling the Navy property on California Dry Dock Solutions, but is willing to work with those interested in accelerating the Navy's own cleanup schedule.

Anast said separate work with the city to receive proper permitting and planning documents has been flowing smoothly, and property owner Lennar Mare Island representatives are ready to sign a lease with the company.

Jason Keadjian, a Lennar Mare Island spokesman, agreed, saying the lease is pending some final issues, including city planning approval and the company's receipt of dredging permits.

Anast said he believes any potential contaminant found in the dredged material, once mixed with clean soil, would disperse down to acceptable levels for disposal sites.

"Everybody wants this to happen, but there's some regulatory agency capable of stopping it at every turn," Anast said.

Gribble said there may be significant contamination in the proposed dredging area that would bar dumping the material in the bay. Dredge sampling would remove further doubt, Gribble said.

The state agency recommended the company leave dredging to the Navy, which has funding for dredging in the coming year, Anast said.

The lack of a detailed timeline for the operation by the Navy worries Anast. The Navy has submitted a draft sampling plan for the area, and the DTSC is working out some planning kinks, Gribble said.

Anast said the DTSC has bent over backward to help the company get the necessary go-ahead, but dredging requirements for contaminated sites are much more stringent, and costly. The $800,000 his company has budgeted for dredging could easily bloom into a $15 million to $20 million cost, he said.

Contact Jessica A. York at 553-6834 or