ENCINITAS — Plans for a network of sand dunes to protect Coast Highway 101 in south Cardiff are now waiting to be heard by the California Coastal Commission.
A notice of pending permit recently appeared on Cardiff State Beach near the Chart House restaurant, alerting visitors that the city’s project application was pending before the state agency.
The notice coincides with the Encinitas Planning Commission’s approval of the project in June.
Crews would erect a series of sand dunes covered with native plants stretching from just south of Chart House restaurant and the rest of Cardiff’s “restaurant row” for a half mile to the entrance of Seaside Reef State beach west of the highway.
The project’s goal is to protect a low-lying section of Coast Highway 101, which is prone to flooding and erosion during storm events that thrust the tide onto the highway. The city has had to close the stretch of road — which supports more than 20,000 motorists daily — more than 50 times in recent years.
But unlike most protective barriers such as seawalls and large boulders known as rip-rap, which accelerate sand depletion along the shores they protect, these “living dunes” are a considered to be a more environmentally favorable alternative. The structures will erode over time, casting sand onto the shoreline.
The dunes will also be capped at 3 feet, so as to not obstruct motorists’ view of the ocean on the scenic drive, city officials said.
Sand for the project is coming from the adjacent San Elijo Lagoon, where a massive dredging project next year is part of the lagoon’s long-anticipated restoration.
Numerous groups support the project, including the Department of State Parks, which owns the beach where the dunes will be located, the San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy, which will be helping to plant the native plants atop the dunes, and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Surfrider Foundation, which both offered the city advice on the project.
Robin Greene, the state parks superintendent who oversees San Diego’s state beaches, voiced her support for the project, which she said was good for the local environment and the safety of the roadway.
“I think it strikes that balance pretty well,” Greene said. “The road needs to be protected, but if we can do it in a way that adds to the natural environment of the coastline, that’s the best alternative.”
Don’t expect construction to begin this summer, however, officials said. Pending Coastal Commission approval, officials expect to move forward with the project in January 2018 and complete it by June 2018.