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New lifeguard center will be fortified against flooding

The new Marine Safety Center at Moonlight Beach is being designed to withstand rising sea levels.

That was the takeaway from a Jan. 27 Encinitas City Council agenda item, which Councilwoman Lisa Shaffer initiated to gauge whether the center will be located too close to the ocean. The 2,200-square-foot lifeguard headquarters is slated to go roughly where the current lifeguard tower stands, and given rising sea levels, the structure will be increasingly vulnerable to wave action.

“I don’t want to be part of the council that in 50 years people look back and say, ‘What were they thinking?” Shaffer said.

In a city-ordered study, the firm Moffatt & Nichol found that the center will be increasingly prone to flooding over the next 50 years, the project’s design life. In response, the structure will have a floodable first floor. Also, the foundation of the center will have cast-in-place concrete piers, connected by grade beams, as protection from waves.

Shaffer said she felt comfortable with the proposed location after learning more about the design, including that it’s fairly common for beach structures to have a floodable first floor.

The Moffat & Nichol study states ocean levels could rise by up to 3 feet in the area by 2067. For reference, the highest observed water level at Scripps Pier was 7.66 feet in 2005.

Climate change causes ocean water to expand and ice to melt, raising sea levels.

The city looked at elevating the first floor of the center, but scrapped that idea due to emergency access issues and the possibility of going over the city’s 30-foot height limiting, which would trigger a public vote under Proposition A.

Putting the center farther east would conflict with the existing lifeguard garage, and that would hamper lifeguard visibility. Mayor Kristin Gaspar said interfering with lifeguard views is a non-starter, so the proposed location seems like the best option.

In a nod of support for the proposed center location, the council did not schedule a follow-up agenda item on the matter.

The California Coastal Commission, which requires that many new beach structures take sea level rise into account, has indicated the center design addresses hazards like flooding, according to the staff report. The agency will soon weigh in on a formal center proposal.

Construction on the $3 million center is scheduled to begin in October and finish spring 2017. It will house lifeguards, administration space, equipment, a first-aid station and dispatch center.

The current 1,152 square-foot tower is falling apart, has dated equipment and is too small to accommodate lifeguard staff, city officials have said.


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