Coastal Commission approves scaled back sand project

Coastal Commission approves scaled back sand project
A surfer catches a wave at Seaside Reef. The California Coastal Commission voted in favor of a revised version of the Encinitas and Solana Beach sand project last week. Among the reasons: The wave quality at surf breaks is less likely to be impacted by the revamped plan. Photo by Jared Whitlock

ENCINITAS — If at first you don’t succeed, then try again. The old adage recently rang true for Encinitas and Solana Beach. 

Earlier this summer, the California Coastal Commission denied the cities’ 50-year replenishment project, arguing too much nourishment sand would affect marine life and the quality of surf breaks.

On Nov. 14 the cities regrouped and submitted a project that would place less sand on beaches, which coastal commissioners unanimously voted in favor of at their meeting in Newport Beach.

Now, the replenishment plan has a shot at receiving federal funding.

“I really appreciate the Army Corps and Solana Beach and Encinitas getting together again and trying to work this out so it’s more acceptable for the Coastal Commission,” said Coastal Commissioner Dayna Bochco.

Although the Coastal Commission vote cleared the way for the project to move forward, a few hurdles still need to be cleared before sand is carted to beaches. The Army Corps of Engineers still has to sign off on funding a large chunk of the project. If it does agree to pay for the nourishment, getting the money will require approval from a federal bill known as WRDA (Water Resources Development Act).

Other infrastructure projects are competing to be included as part of WRDA, and the deadline for the bill is nearing.

Before the commission vote, Solana Beach City Manager David Ott said the project is important because a region-wide replenishment plan has not been put forward to follow efforts in 2001 and 2012.

Along similar lines, Encinitas City Manager Gus Vina said: “If we can’t get this project to the finish line, I’m concerned we may not have this same opportunity for a long time.”

With coastal erosion becoming the norm, Vina said that everything from Coast Highway 101 to beach stairways are at risk. He highlighted how past regional beach nourishments have benefitted the city.

To manage sea level rise, Solana Beach Mayor Mike Nichols said that beach nourishments are preferred over seawalls.

“It’s a much preferred and much superior alternative than continuing to armor our bluffs, Nichols said. “I think we can all agree on that.”

But Julie Chunn-Heer, campaign coordinator with Surfrider, said there’s a “false dichotomy” between “sand and no sand.”

“Some sand is better than no sand, but too much sand at once can have disastrous impacts,” Chunn-Heer said. “So we’re feeling like it’s either death by seawalls or death by sand at this point.”

While the revamped project wouldn’t unload as much sand on beaches, Chunn-Heer said the project is still likely to have a negative impact on surfing reefs like Tabletops in Solana Beach.

Local lobsterman Marcus Medic said the replenishment plan doesn’t adequately monitor the effects on lobster and other marine life.

“No mention is made of the effect on the survival of lobsters or any other shallow reef inhabitants,” Medic said.

Based on conversations with other local lobstermen, catches are dramatically down as a result of the 2012 sand replenishment, Medic said.

In contrast, fishermen in other parts of Southern California, who weren’t affected by the nourishment, have indicated catch levels are fairly normal. Regular nourishments would take a toll on San Diego lobstermen, he said.

With replenishments becoming more common across the state, Coastal Commissioner Brian Brennan said it’s important that the Coastal Commission advance monitoring for lobster and other fisheries, starting with the Encinitas and Solana Beach project.

In response, coastal commission staff members said they’d explore partnering with other agencies to analyze how the 50-year sand project impacts lobsters.

Other coastal commissioners said they were reassured that the scaled back project would result in beach widths that are in line with — not more than — historic conditions. This means the wave quality at surf breaks is less likely to suffer, they said. Similarly, provisions in the revamped plan call for tracking the project’s effect on surfing.

In Solana Beach, the first replenishment cycle would dredge 700,000 cubic yards of sand from offshore and place it on beaches. Subsequent cycles, done every 10 years, would place 290,000 cubic yards of sand on the shore.

For Encinitas, beaches would gain 340,000 cubic yards of sand during the first cycle. Future nourishments would unload 220,000 cubic yards of sand every five years. Over 50 years, it’s estimated the project would cost $55.6 million for the Encinitas portion and $61 million for the Solana Beach portion.






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