WASHINGTON — The Army Corps of Engineers has agreed to spend an additional $2.5 million for dredging built-up sand at Ventura Harbor, Rep. Julia Brownley announced Tuesday.

The Westlake Village Democrat has been working with stakeholders to coordinate the response to an unusual buildup of sand that raised safety concerns and led to the closure of the harbor entrance to all but the most essential boats.

“The timing of the money is perfect,” Harbor Director Oscar Pena said Tuesday. “The last 30 days, everybody's been distressed.”

Pena said he hopes to see the entrance cleared by the weekend. A dredge has been in place for two days but needed some repair work. Adverse weather also has been a factor in the delay. Tim Burrows, a Ventura Harbor Patrol officer, said Tuesday night that the dredging had started.  

Even if the entrance is cleared by the weekend, dredging work is expected to take as long as a month.

Pena said everything had looked fine in mid-December, with dredging scheduled for mid-February as planned, “then Mother Nature threw a curve at us.”

The problem this year at Ventura Harbor is that the strong El Niño storm season has left about 1 million cubic yards of sand around the harbor's entrance and caused an overflow of sand from the sand trap south of the harbor.

About 30 vessels, including oil rescue and commercial fishing boats, relocated before the entrance was closed, with most of the vessels to nearby Channel Islands Harbor. Still, some businesses are expected to lose money because of the disruption.

Port officials have been seeking an additional $2 million to dredge 800,000 cubic yards of sand and keep the harbor open until another scheduled dredging in early 2017.

The Army Corps of Engineers already has set aside at least $4.25 million to dredge about 465,000 cubic yards of sand at Ventura Harbor. The money covered the $1.4 million needed to move the dredging equipment from Long Beach to the harbor.

“I am so pleased that our efforts have been successful in securing additional funds for the current dredge, which will ensure the channel remains navigable and protect Ventura Harbor's estimated $246 million total economic activity in our region,” Brownley said.

Brownley's office also noted that President Barack Obama's 2017 budget, released Tuesday, has proposed $4.3 million for dredging at Ventura Harbor. In addition, her office announced that the Corps of Engineers' budget request includes $7.9 million for dredging Channel Islands Harbor, with the Navy required to provide a 19 percent supplement for a total of $9.8 million.

Staff writer John Scheibe contributed to this report.

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