COAST CITIES — After 13 years of studies and several proposed alternatives, a 50-year plan to replace sand on beaches in Solana Beach and Encinitas is entering what could be the final phase.
A draft environmental impact report that includes a recommendation for each city from the Army Corps of Engineers is available for public comment until Feb. 26, however, that deadline may be extended for another 30 days.
Public hearings that allowed the public to express concerns about the project and comment on the environmental studies were held in the two cities Feb. 6 and Feb. 7.
During those meetings a representative from the Surfrider Foundation of San Diego said because of the holidays and other commitments, the organization didn’t have time to properly review the lengthy document that was released Dec. 28.
“Due to our previous experience, subject matter, interest and relevant expertise, we believe our comments are crucial in strengthening the EIR,” Julia Chunn-Heer, Surfrider’s campaign coordinator, said at the Feb. 7 meeting in Solana Beach.
The goal of the project — a joint venture between Solana Beach, Encinitas and the Army Corps of Engineers — is to reduce coastal storm damage to more than eight miles of beach beginning at the mouth of Batiquitos Lagoon in Encinitas and stretching south to include the entire 1.7-mile Solana Beach coastline except an area north of Tide Park.
The plan is to use sand from offshore borrow sites to renourish the beaches on a regular cycle for 50 years starting in 2015.
The Army Corps of Engineers studied several alternatives that included submerged breakwaters, artificial reefs, sea walls, sand replacement, filling the notches at the base of the bluffs and a hybrid of the latter two.
The Corps also considered doing nothing at all, an option referred to as managed retreat that would let coastal erosion take its natural course.
The tentatively recommended plan for Encinitas is to replace 100 feet of beach every five years using a total of 680,000 cubic yards of sand. The benefit-to-cost ratio is rated as 1.53, with an annual net average benefit to the city of $1.2 million.
Solana Beach would receive 200 feet of sand every 13 years using 960,000 cubic yards. The benefit-to-cost ratio is rated as 1.91 with a net average annual benefit of $860,000.
A project must have a benefit-to-cost ratio greater than 1 for the Corps to move forward.
Sand will be dredged from two sites directly offshore.
Primary environmental concerns addressed include potential impacts to the near-shore rocky reef and surf grass habitats, air quality impacts from construction, water quality impacts from the nourishment, noise, potential effects on recreation, including surfing, public safety, aesthetics and cultural resources.
The impacts to Encinitas were determined to be less than significant in all cases except cultural resources. No mitigation is proposed other than standard cultural resource monitoring.
Impacts to Solana Beach were determined to be less than significant except for biological and cultural resources. Mitigation is proposed for that city.
Monitoring will take place during sand placement and work will be stopped for assessment if cultural resources are discovered. Turbidity, or haze, at the borrow and placement sites will also be monitored, as will the effects on grunion spawning.
The plan is to address concerns submitted by the comment period deadline and complete the final report by May.
A decision whether to proceed with the project will be made by the cities and the Corps, said Col. Mark Toy, district engineer with the Corps.
Plans could be submitted to the Civil Works Review Board in June. Two 30-day reviews by other agencies would follow that. Then it will go to Congress for authorization in December, with construction possibly beginning in 2015.
Toy said the schedule could change based on funding and environmental issues.
“Changes may (also) be made to the tentatively recommended plan based on comments received by the Feb. 26 deadline,” Toy added.
Del Mar Planning Manager Adam Birnbaum was one of only three people to speak during the Solana Beach meeting.
He said officials in that city support the restoration efforts but have concerns about dredging because one of the borrow sites is off the Del Mar coast.
“As you can understand, with a large amount of sand being mined, dredged from the near shore off Del Mar, it is of concern to the city that the project be appropriately designed and implemented” so it doesn’t impact the beach profile, Birnbaum said.
Del Mar had similar concerns during a recent sand replenishment project conducted by the San Diego Association of Governments. He said it’s too early to tell if claims of no impacts from that project, completed in December, were accurate.
Solana Beach resident Jim Jaffee, an avid surfer and advisory board member at Surfrider, said he was concerned because according to the report, reef breaks in Solana Beach are likely to be impacted and there’s a possibility they could be converted to beach breaks.
“We don’t know if that’s deemed a significant impact,” he said. “It didn’t seem like it was identified as a significant impact but if we did a survey in the lineup I guarantee there would be some concern.”
Jaffee also requested continuous surf monitoring, which is currently being conducted by Surfrider to document any impacts from the SANDAG project. Funding for that runs out in 2014.
Jaffee also said he believes managed retreat “may have been dismissed a little too prematurely.”
Chunn-Heer agreed, saying the alternative “deserves more than just a cursory hand wave.”
“It should be more substantially evaluated,” she said.
Chunn-Heer also said surf monitoring should be a project requirement and methods currently being used by Surfrider should be incorporated.
Susie Ming, the project manager, said managed retreat was analyzed but it would require acquisition and removal of public beach access, public roads, including Coast Highway 101, and public facilities.
“Acquiring private lands and converting these for public use can only be accomplished through acquisition of high-cost real estate, which makes this option not viable,” she said.
Jacob Hensel, senior economist with the Army Corps of Engineers, said any federal Water Resources Development Act project such as this must be economically justified.
He said an analysis to determine whether the benefits exceeded the cost of implementation was conducted for all proposed alternatives.
For managed retreat, the cost of structure and land loss, demolition of structures, relocation and measures to protect public infrastructure such as utilities and roads was high.
Allowing it would provide primarily recreation benefits, he said.
“Based on economic justification alone, the costs of managed retreat are significant,” he said. “The benefits that we can capture are very limited.”
Solana Beach City Manager David Ott said a managed retreat analysis conducted by that city in 2002 had similar findings.
He also said “serious consideration is being given to the extension … but there are some things that are out of our control. … We haven’t finished our discussions yet.”
The draft EIR is available on the websites of both cities and at spl.usace.army.mil/Missions/CivilWorks/ProjectsStudies/SolanaEncinitasshorelineStudy.aspx.
Submit comments to Larry Smith at LawrenceJSmith@usace.army.mil or Planning Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Box 532711, Los Angeles, CA 90053-2325.