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50-year sand project wins environmental approval

A jagged crack near the base of a bluff in Encinitas is an early indication that the bluff will fail. To prevent such instances, a project for Encinitas and Solana Beach proposes restoration efforts to protect the shoreline.
A jagged crack near the base of a bluff in Encinitas is an early indication that the bluff will fail. To prevent such instances, a project for Encinitas and Solana Beach proposes restoration efforts to protect the shoreline.
( / Photo courtesy of Greg Fuderer)

The Encinitas and Solana Beach city councils on Oct. 14 unanimously signed off on an environmental assessment report for the 50-year sand project, a big step forward for the plan.

Encinitas councilmembers Tony Kranz, Catherine Blakespear and Lisa Shaffer said everything should be done to ensure the project doesn’t hurt marine life or surfing. Staff from the Army Corps of Engineers, which is heading the project, assured them that the plan would be continuously monitored in case of any impacts.

“I can support this with the assurance that the monitoring reports will be publicly available,” Shaffer said.

The project would regularly deposit offshore sand on local beaches to shore up bluffs and infrastructure. A city staff report said the plan would combat rising sea levels and coastal erosion that’s the result of inland dams choking off river sediment from flowing to beaches.

Mayor Kristin Gaspar said the nourishment plan, 14 years in the works, is the most extensively studied project she’s come across. She applauded city staff and the Army Corps for sticking with the project for so long.

“In 50 years, my own children will be senior citizens…hopefully they’ll be walking on these beaches, reflecting on what we’ve been able to accomplish as a council in protecting our beaches,” Gaspar said.

Eight of the 11 public speakers were in favor of the long-term sand replenishment.

Mark Francois, representing 410 oceanfront homeowners who are a part of Seacoast Preservation Association, said sand nourishments are the most effective way of preventing bluff erosion. He noted an unexpected bluff collapse in 2000 killed a woman who was watching her husband surf at Stone Steps Beach.

“Wide, sandy beaches benefit everyone,” Francois said.

Dennis Lees, a marine biologist, raised concerns about the project’s ecological impacts. He advocated for further researching “managed retreat,” a broad term that includes moving property back from the cliffs.

“Mother Nature is going to win in the end, and we need to make plans now for what we’re going to do about that,” Lees said. “We can’t just put a Band-Aid on it.”

The project was scaled back two years ago to unload less sand, in response to the California Coastal Commission voicing concerns that too much sand could overpower marine habitat and surfing reefs.

Under the plan, Solana Beach’s initial replenishment would result in 700,000 cubic yards of sand, followed by 290,000 cubic yards of sand every decade during the project’s lifespan. Encinitas would receive 340,000 cubic yards of sand on the beach during the first replenishment, and then around 220,000 cubic yards of sand every five years.

Environmental documents for the project didn’t identify significant impacts to surfing or marine life in Encinitas. There is, however, the potential for the loss of archeological resources, which underwater divers would watch over time.

It’s estimated the entire project would cost $164.9 million, with a draft plan calling for the federal government to fund $87 million. The cities, the state and potentially other funding sources would pick up the rest of the tab, though they haven’t decided how to divvy up the remaining costs.

Next up for the plan is preconstruction engineering design, and then seeking final approval for federal funding. Officials say if all goes well, the project would begin in two or three years.


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