Ventura Harbor businesses in recovery mode

by Chris O’Neal
chris@vcreporter.com

If you’re planning to hike the Channel Islands, you may need to be a good swimmer. El Niño’s storms have thus far missed the mainland, but the high tides and strong currents have done immeasurable damage to Channel Islands infrastructure, specifically to the piers used by charter boats to unload hikers and campers.

Island Packers, which arranges trips to the Channel Islands from Ventura Harbor, is back in its original location after being moved to Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard due to Ventura Harbor’s closure in February. Business is still being affected, however, by the damage done to the piers on Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara Islands by strong currents and waves.

“It’s a challenge with the weather as it’s decreased our capacities of guests being able to go out for the day,” said Cherryl Connally, Island Packers co-owner and office manager. “We’ve had to limit our capacities because we can’t go to the pier and make an easy unload and pickup.”

Day excursions are down from an average of 300 people a day to between 70 and 100, but whale-watching trips are still operating at full capacity.

Other businesses at the harbor may be breathing a sigh of relief now that the harbor entrance has reopened, but the damage has already been done.

The U.S. Small Business Administration has labeled the Ventura Harbor closure, and closures of neighboring harbors in Santa Barbara and L.A., as disasters, thus opening access to small loans to mitigate the damage to businesses that were forced to close or relocate due to the entrance’s closure and dredging.

The Ventura Harbor entrance was closed from Jan. 22 through Feb. 19 due to an abundance of sand overwhelming the trap, causing hazardous conditions for boaters traveling in and out. The sand trap can accommodate up to 800,000 cubic yards of sand, but El Niño-driven storms pushed the trap past its limits.

The SBA says that while current estimation of the economic impact to harbor businesses is yet to be determined, 20 businesses have submitted so-called “economic injury worksheets” supplied by the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office of Emergency Services for Economic Injury Disaster Loans, also known as EIDLs, for up to a maximum of $2 million at a max interest rate of 4 percent.

A temporary SBA Recovery Center has been established at the harbor through Thursday, March 3.

The Ventura Harbor plays host to a plethora of businesses, ranging from vessel maintenance and repair to sport fishing and charter operations. Brian Pendleton, business operations manager with the Ventura Harbor, says that connecting business owners with the SBA is important.

“The important part for us right now is to make sure we connect our businesses to the resources they need,” said Pendleton. “That’s our most immediate concern.”

As far as business is concerned, Pendleton says that now that the entrance has reopened, the harbor can work on assessing the damage done and bringing visitors back.

“The benefit to the businesses this week is that the SBA staff is here; the case managers are here at the harbor and will be here through Thursday,” said Pendleton. “Certainly the message is out that the harbor is open for business, and that’s good news.”

The filing deadline for an economic injury loan is Nov. 25, 2016. Loans can be used to fund payroll, fixed debts and other bills. For more information, visit www.venturaharbor.com