REGION — Despite concerns from residents during their Oct. 14 meetings, City Council members in Solana Beach and Encinitas unanimously approved a modified version of a sand-replenishment project that will create 35 acres of new beach area during the next 50 years.
The two cities have been working with the Army Corps of Engineers for about 15 years 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 almost the entire 1.7-mile Solana Beach coastline.
In addition to preventing bluff-top homes from falling into the ocean, the sand replacement is expected to improve recreational opportunities, decrease the need for sea walls and increase safety by reducing the threat of bluff failures caused by wave action.
From January through September of this year Solana Beach marine safety officers have had to warn more than 6,600 people to stay away from the bluffs.
Original plans were to deposit 680,000 cubic yards of sand in Encinitas for an average added beach width of 100 feet, with replenishment every five years. Solana Beach had an initial placement of 960,000 cubic yards to create 200 feet of beach, with replenishment every 13 years.
Based on input from environmental advocates and surfers, Encinitas will now have an initial placement volume of 340,000 cubic yards of sand for an added average beach width of 50 feet. Its southern neighbor will receive 700,000 cubic yards to create an average beach width of 150 feet.
Encinitas will be replenished every five years with 220,000 cubic yards of sand. Solana Beach will receive 290,000 cubic yards every 10 years.
Sand will be dredged from three offshore sites. Placement plans were adjusted to avoid adding sand to Table Tops, a popular surf spot in Solana Beach.
At the request of the San Diego chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, additional surf monitoring was added to the project as a mitigation measure. Representatives from the group, including Solana Beach residents, said they prefer the modified plans but still have concerns about the effect the project may have on surf conditions.
“We participated in this process all the way through and we really appreciate that,” said Jim Jaffee, a Solana Beach resident, longtime surfer and co-chairman of Surfrider’s Beach Preservation Committee.
“We really appreciate the things that were done to augment the project, which is moving it away from Table Tops,” he added. “We reduced the volumes of sand, which is a good thing, too, but it’s still drastically more sand than has ever been placed in the area.”
Jaffee said Surfrider installed surf monitoring cameras in Solana Beach and Encinitas. He wanted to know what was in the project “tool kit” to mitigate problems if the monitoring efforts show damage to surf conditions.
“We’re kind of caught in a big pickle here though because this project is predominantly to protect the property,” he said. “It’s been mentioned that there’s going to be adaptation if something happens that’s negative (to surf conditions) but it’s not clear what’s going to happen.
“And what if there’s a conflict within the elements of the project?” he asked. “Which one’s going to win?
“We’re willing to cooperate with whoever does this monitoring and we’re willing to work on a tool kit,” he added.
Solana Beach resident Tracy Richmond also said the environmental impact report “doesn’t provide any meaningful discussion for the preservation of surf quality.”
“I know that seems to be a rather insignificant issue but as a surfer it isn’t for me,” he said. “I’m concerned that the sand quality and size is not compatible with the area so that it’s not going to preserve and form the proper ridges for quality surf. It also is going to cause a problem with the beach profile.”
Chuck Mesa, chief of coastal engineering with the Army Corps of Engineers, said the borrow site closest to Solana Beach will be used to dredge sand for placement in that city so the sand grains should be the same size, or perhaps bigger, which will provide better conditions.
“By grain size alone we should have either no impact or possibly improved surf break,” Mesa said. “We have committed to monitoring surfability before and after the project.
“We will be working with you, we promise, because it’s important to us,” he added. “Surfable waves are a valuable resource.”
Mesa said the Army Corps is also committed to a rigorous adapted management program, which means during the next renourishment cycle the timing and placement locations can all be modified to avoid significant impacts to surfing.
Approval in Encinitas came with some hesitation by several council members.
Catherine Blakespear, Lisa Shaffer and Tony Kranz expressed concerns about the potential ecological impacts on the borrow sites.
Several members of the public, including Leucadia resident and marine biologist Dennis Lees, said the project was flawed in that it doesn’t address the root cause of sand loss along the coastline and could potentially harm the ecosystems impacted by the dredging.
“This is a Band-Aid solution,” Lees said. “It does not solve any of the real problems that we have with bluff security and protection of the San Elijo Strand.”
A number of residents, including several coastal home and property owners, urged the city to approve the environmental impact report, which they said would provide protection for the coastal bluffs and their properties.
“This is almost a must-do project. The safety and economic and public access benefits of this project cannot be understated,” said Jon Corn, a local attorney who represents coastal property owners. “It reduces the need for and the size of sea walls and is the only way to increase recreational opportunities on the beach.”
As part of the approval, the Encinitas council insisted the Army Corps of Engineers and city staff monitor the sand collection sites for any potential water quality or ecological issues and report the results publicly.
Solana Beach council members were more supportive.
“This is a good project because it has the ability to create more sand,” Mike Nichols said. “Without the project a lot of these surf breaks are going to drown.”
“It’s going to protect the homes. It’s going to offer a lot more recreational beach area,” Ginger Marshall said. “I won’t have to look at the tide chart to walk the length of Solana Beach. I’m just really looking forward to having a beach at Solana Beach.”
“The benefits of more sand in light of all of the climate change that we’re seeing and hopefully the reduction in armoring our shoreline far outweighs any of the uncertainties, which I’m glad to hear will be monitored very closely,” Mayor Lesa Heebner said.
“This isn’t the end,” she added. “We’ve now got to start finding some money.”
The total 50-year cost, which includes monitoring and mitigation, is estimated to be $100.1 million in Encinitas and $64.7 million in Solana Beach, with average annual costs of $2.1 million and $1.6 million, respectively.
More than half of the money is slated to come from federal funding. Sand placement is expected to begin in about two years.
Aaron Burgin contributed to this report.