Adam Spencer, The Triplicate

Rock wall installation and pile driving for docks in Crescent City Harbor's inner boat basin will resume much earlier than expected after a state agency loosened restrictions on in-water construction.

Harbor staff received word from the California Coastal Commission on March 8 that in-water work could begin immediately, a departure from the commission's previous stance that certain construction could not recommence until Jun. 1.

Crescent City Harbormaster/ CEO Richard Young said that Dutra Construction, the lead contractor for the inner boat basin project, will begin construction on rock slope walls as early as Monday and pile driving should begin sometime this week.

"We're happy they can get started on the RSP (rock slope protection)," Young said Thursday. "Everybody has acknowledged that we're behind on the schedule, so having a few more months to work is a big plus for us."

The inner boat basin is being rebuilt after harbor docks were destroyed by a March 11, 2011, tsunami.

Potential impacts that noisy, heavy-equipment construction could have on salmon populations from Elk Creek, which empties into the harbor next to Beachfront Park, are one of the main reasons the Coastal Commission instituted a restriction on in-water work to begin with.

Although rock slope wall construction will be allowed through Nov. 15, pile driving can only occur through the end of March, then must be suspended until June 1, in order to avoid acoustic impacts to out-migrating salmon smolts from Elk Creek. The smolts are expected to leave the creek in April and May.

Environmental consultants hired by Dutra will continue to research protective measures that might allow for pile driving to continue all spring, Young said.

"It would be a shame to do some work and then shut back down for two months if we can avoid impact to the salmon," said Harbor Commission president Ron Phillips.

In-water work did not begin immediately after the Coastal Commission's approval since Dutra's rock slope-installation and pile driving crews were elsewhere.

"It was speculation about whether they could get the work window opened or not, so (Dutra) did not mobilize a crew until they had assurance that they could actually do some work," Young said.

Staying on schedule for the inner boat basin reconstruction project has been a concern for harbor district staff and Dutra Construction after equipment failure of a specialized drill bit used for pile installation resulted in less pilings being installed in the first round of construction than expected.

Representatives of Dutra Construction could not be reached for comment on the extra construction days.

Rock slope work above a certain tide line is allowed by the commission year-round. Dutra has installed sections of pre-fabricated concrete "L walls" on the north side of the harbor that also serve as foundation for sidewalks. A new gangway on the north side of the harbor has also been installed.

"This will be a huge head start on getting rock slope work done," Young said. "(Dutra) is looking forward to getting a jump-start."

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