Despite Promises, Dredging Went Unmonitored

Despite Promises, Dredging Went Unmonitored

Sam Hodgson

The Army Corps of Engineers and a contractor pumping sand onto Mission Beach claimed someone would monitor this pipe 24 hours a day to catch debris. Wednesday night, workers operated machinery nearby but none stood near the pipe.

The private company pumping sand onto Mission Beach has not done what it’s promised to prevent debris like rebar and rubber from being dumped on the beach.

Manson Construction had pledged Wednesday to ensure that any debris pumped onto the beach would be immediately removed after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Mayor’s Office approached them with concerns that hazardous debris was ending up onshore.

The company is in charge of a $5.3 million Army Corps project to dredge the Mission Bay channel floor and pump the sand onto Mission Beach. It is also responsible for monitoring the total half-million cubic yards of sand — roughly 150 Olympic-sized swimming pools — being piped onto the beach 24 hours a day.

“They’re going to have someone watching the discharge,” Scott John, the Army Corps manager overseeing the project, told me Wednesday.

He repeated that in a Wednesday email to City Councilman Kevin Faulconer’s office: “[T]he contractor will have a man watching the discharge pipe 24/7 pulling any trash that comes out and placing it in a dumpster.”

Frank Bechtolt, the project manager for Manson Construction Co., the private contractor, told us the same thing. The dump site would be well-lit, he said, and a man would be stationed at the pipe, immediately removing debris.

At 7 p.m. Wednesday night, though, the man they promised was nowhere in sight. And no lights were shining on the pipe, which spewed a deluge of water and sand.

Even if the site had been lit, or a monitor stationed near the pipe, it would have been virtually impossible for a single person to see or remove debris as it flowed out with the torrential gush.

Residents and the local Surfrider Foundation chapter have said they’re concerned that the wire, bars, and rubber found on the beach in recent weeks pose a safety hazard for beach-goers. They’re also worried that more debris could be buried below. An Army Corps sand project in Imperial Beach five years ago left debris that has continued to surface.

On Thursday, Bechtolt told me he’d been assured by his field supervisor that the dump site would be monitored.

“My man guaranteed there’d be someone there all day and all night,” Bechtolt said.

By phone a few minutes later, that field supervisor, Larry Hall, said a monitor was stationed at the pipe 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“I had people standing by this discharge,” he said.

I told Hall that we had photographed the discharge pipe flowing Wednesday night and no one was stationed there for almost an hour. Hall replied: “That’s slander. I will sue you. You cannot go around slandering. There’s somebody out there. I will sue you and your newspaper. I guarantee that.”

Then he hung up.

Tony Manolatos, the spokesman for Faulconer, the councilman who represents Mission Beach, was surprised to learn the company had not done what it promised.

“That’s not acceptable,” he said. “We’re going to find out what’s going on.”

David Gibson, executive officer for the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board, the local water pollution regulator, said a staffer had checked the site Thursday and didn’t find debris. Gibson promised another visit next week.

“I would intend to keep up that level of vigilance as long as they’re dredging,” Gibson said.

– Rob Davis contributed reporting to this story.

Please contact Adrian Florido directly at adrian.florido@voiceofsandiego.org or at 619.325.0528 and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adrianflorido.

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Adrian Florido

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