ON THE HARBOR: Catching up with Harbormaster Paul Blank

By Len Bose – December 02, 2023

Source: Stu News Newport https://www.stunewsnewport.com/index.php/archives/front-page-archive/16036-on-the-harbor-catching-up-with-120123

As winter approaches, I start to look back on the year, and to prepare for the new year. Very similar to looking aft while sailing downwind in a sailboat race. Doing this will keep you aware of the changing conditions. With this in mind, I checked back in with Harbormaster Paul Blank this last week.

Q: From a distance it seemed like a quiet year, no oil spills, tsunamis, down aircraft. So what did I miss?

A: There were a couple of severe weather (wind and rain) events this year. We revived the technology we use to notify mooring permittees of approaching weather and urge them to verify their mooring equipment and lines to ensure all are secure. You may recall, there was considerable attention and communication in anticipation of Hurricane Hilary arriving in August. One other of the severe weather events was a strong Santa Ana which stresses the mooring equipment from a different direction than usual, so we have significant concern about boats staying in place when faced with unusual conditions. All in all, things were fine and we greatly appreciated everyone’s preparedness in the face of these severe events.

A couple of other extraordinary emergencies we dealt with this year included two vessels taking on significant amounts of water and in serious danger of sinking.

Both vessels were wooden and both were of “vintage” age. Because they were in serious danger of sinking, we brought them to Marina Park where we could use shore power to operate pumps that kept them afloat while assessments and plans were made for their disposition. In one case, we were dealing with a less-than-responsible owner and the eventual outcome was that the boat was removed from the harbor and destroyed. In the other case, I am pleased to report a much happier ending. That boat was repaired while at Marina Park sufficiently to return to its mooring a couple of days later. That boat has gone on to pass a full inspection with the Harbor Department permitting the owner to live aboard.

Another emergency response involved an alert – Harbor Department team members identifying a significant amount of discharge into the harbor coming from upland.

The location was near the BCYC and was not bound to the surface, so a containment boom would not have been effective. We contacted the water quality team who promptly came for an inspection and then began an investigation trying to find the source. After more than an hour of searching the water, the quality team identified the source as a broken landscape irrigation pipe on Newport Center Drive which was subsequently staunched when the responsible party was contacted. Fortunately, the runoff was nothing more serious than sediment from some landscaping.

Another incident that started out with potentially disastrous consequences resolved without serious damage or injuries: As one of our patrol boats was exiting the harbor entrance they witnessed a few jet skis driving in circles in front of other larger vessels. One larger vessel honked at the jet skier and kept moving. Five minutes later, we were notified and saw the same jet ski stuck underneath a large catamaran. The jet ski operator was safe with no injuries and the vessel also had limited marks from the incident. After assessing the damage, the jet skier hopped back on his vessel after it was dislodged and both went back to their respective storage locations.

Q: How about an update on dredging?

A. Three different suits involving two defendants (Army Corp of Engineers and City of Newport Beach) are making their way through the courts. The ACE Colonel was here for a tour recently, which we provided. He seemed committed to resolving the suits and moving forward with the project ASAP. There is some optimism the suits will be resolved early in 2024 and the project can get underway in the spring.

Q: And an update on the Pilot Mooring program?

A: I am currently working on responses to the 14 questions or requests for more information the Coastal Commission made based on their initial read through of the application.  he documentation I am preparing will amount to more than 1,000 pages and is taking a considerable amount of my time to compile.

It is hoped the application will get a second review with the Coastal Commission staff early in 2024. The have indicated they want to come for a site visit soon, which we will provide.

Q: Earlier this year you talked about training programs, and working with many different agencies. Has everything gone as planned, what have you learned?

A: The Harbor Department has engaged in a significant amount of training in 2023, both as a team here in Newport and with some team members attending training in other locations. Here locally we engaged in our own spill response drill right after Labor Day. The drill was a surprise that took place during a scheduled “All Hands” meeting and was very successful. We also did a joint training session and preparedness assessment with the California National Guard Marine Command (MARCOM) that proved very beneficial for all involved.

Harbor Service worker Charles Lebano and Code Enforcement Officer Jeffrey Goldfarb are bringing the spill boom off the dock onto the patrol boat to deploy The Harbor Department was also well represented at the following conferences and training sessions: – California Association of Code Enforcement Officers – California Association of Marine Safety Officers – Recreational Marina Association – Association of Marina Industries (National Trade Group)

Q: Can you talk about the Harbor Department’s (HD) objectives for 2024?

A: The objectives are as follows:

  • Continue to improve the technology that supports our activities and operations allowing us to be more effective.
  • Plan production of an introductory safety video suitable for posting on the city website, accessible on the MyNB app and made available to rental concession operators (communications, safety).

Further improve data collection and reporting including:

  • Location heat mapping.
  • Additional metrics.
  • Improve formats for reporting (month and year).
  • Complete a new application and receive $175K grant from the Calif. Division of Boating and Waterways for the removal of surrendered and abandoned vessels from Newport Harbor.
  • Replace the 2007 vessel in the HD fleet with a vessel that better meets the current department operational and functional requirements.

Q: Anything new going on at Marina Park?

A. The Harbor Department offices are getting some much-needed soundproofing. It’s a very active place with customers, constituents, and colleagues both in person in the office and over the phone. It can be very challenging to participate in a conversation or even just concentrate effectively enough to comprehend emails and other documents.

We also hope to implement a universal electric charging station for electric vessels here in the Marina Park marina. We are close to finalizing a contract with the vendor and are just waiting for final signoff from the City Attorney.

We did recently have an overdue inspection of our firefighting systems down on the docks. We got a very good report from the inspection agency and are pleased we are prepared in the event of an emergency.

Q: Of your objectives for 2023, which one are you most pleased with in terms of results?

A: The most important objective achieved by the department this year was elevation of six Harbor Services Worker and Harbor Services Lead positions to full time. The people who serve in those positions are professionals who have chosen this work as their careers. They deliver consistently excellent service and are dedicated to achieving the Harbor Department’s “clean, safe and well-enjoyed” mission. It is a huge step forward that they can now call these jobs their “full-time” professions and not have to supplement their livelihoods with other part-time work. In addition to the dignity and benefits these team members now enjoy, it has meant significantly less of my time is spent on recruiting and personnel development activities. That time has been redeployed on activities that are of greater value to the harbor community.

Here are the three other objectives I am most pleased the HD accomplished in 2023.

  • Establish rapport and open a dialogue with representatives of the Harbor Charter Fleet industry to promote best practices for charter boat operations in Newport Harbor with particular attention to vessel specifications, noise and pollution control compliance and long-range plans for operations and berthing in Newport Harbor. (Clean, well-enjoyed, communications, community building.)
  • Make full use of the $175K grant from the Calif. Division of Boating and Waterways for the removal of surrendered and abandoned vessels from Newport Harbor.
  • Conduct Harbor Summer Summit recap in the fall after the very successful and well-attended Harbor Summer Summit in spring 2023.

Q: Has there been progress with Code enforcement this year?

A: The code enforcement team is firing on all cylinders at present. The team has distributed the responsibilities very effectively and are focused on their special areas of expertise. Their efforts have focused on stay limits in the anchorages, dye-tabbing of visiting vessels and operability of vessels in the harbor. We’ve achieved removal of a couple of unpermitted floats/dock extensions. We just received court approval to take nuisance abatement action on three inoperable and unsanitary vessels.

The code enforcement team initiated and is convening a Southern California Taskforce on Dilapidated and Inoperable Vessels. We’ve gotten positive responses and participation from essentially all the recreational harbors in SoCal.

The intent is to keep track and alert one another on vessels of concern moving from one harbor to the next.

The group will also attempt to make codes, rules and policies more consistent from harbor to harbor, so all visitors’ expectations are consistently set and they have a more consistent experience.

Q: It’s time for the Christmas Boat Parade. What should boaters on the water keep in mind, and how will the Harbor Department be involved?

A: The Christmas Boat Parade is an absolutely extraordinary event that brings joyful entertainment to more than one million people annually. The Harbor Department will be on the water all five nights helping to ensure a neat and orderly parade as well as ensuring everyone gets back to their berth safely.

All boaters are asked to do all they can to ensure that joyful entertainment is not marred by an irresponsible action:

  • If you are going to imbibe adult beverages during or in association with the parade, please do so responsibly and when safely back at the docks.
  • Noise and light from your vessel can impair visibility and ability to communicate with other vessels. Please be sure you can see and be seen by other vessels on the water.

I should get Harbormaster Blank to sail with me on my Harbor 20; I’d never miss a wind shift again!

Sea ya.

Len Bose is a yachting enthusiast, yacht broker and harbor columnist for Stu News Newport.

Source: Stu News Newport https://www.stunewsnewport.com/index.php/archives/front-page-archive/16036-on-the-harbor-catching-up-with-120123

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