DEL MAR — With bluff collapses in coastal North County increasing, North County Transit District and the city of Del Mar are gearing up for another round of bluff stabilization efforts.
Such efforts are meant to safeguard the railroad corridor in Del Mar, which runs directly through the city’s 1.6-mile stretch of beachside bluffs.
Set to break ground in early September and be completed in May of 2020, the project — termed DMB4 — will involve repairing three seawalls on the beach below the tracks, removing concrete debris from aging infrastructure, stabilizing areas where bluffs are failing and repairing stormwater drainage facilities.
The City Council approved an encroachment permit on Aug. 5 that will allow NCTD and the San Diego Association of Governments to conduct a portion of its efforts in the city’s right of way, specifically across the beach and south bluff from 6th to 17th street.
Repairing retaining structures and storm drains is meant to “help mitigate surface irrigation and stormwater runoff away from the bluffs,” and further divert it to the ocean, wrote NCTD Communications Officer Kimy Wall in an email to The Coast News.
Existing hydroaugers will also be adjusted, and damaged ones will be removed. Hydroaugers are pipes meant to pull water out of the sandstone bluff and lessen the impact of irrigation.
Uphill irrigation, along with sea-level rise, has often been pinpointed by experts as a major cause of bluff instability and erosion.
NCTD, which owns and operates the corridor, has been implementing stabilization efforts in Del Mar since the late 1990s. It has installed upwards of 200 soldier piles in the bluff in order to protect the tracks from erosion.
This is the fourth effort in the series of projects, with DMB5 and DMB6 coming down the pike. No soldier piles will be installed as part of the most current stabilization effort — which will largely focus on securing existing structures and implementing drainage improvements.
But after a spate of sizeable bluff collapses in Del Mar over the past year and a recent fatal bluff collapse in Encinitas, residents and officials alike are looking closely at potential long-term solutions.
SANDAG — which works with NCTD to implement bluff stabilization projects — gave a presentation to the city in February outlining several options to move the train tracks to an inland route by 2050. Regardless of the option, the cost of relocating the tracks would fall between $2.5 billion and $3.5 billion.
Many are hoping the shift will come sooner than 2050.
“I think it’s urgent that the bluffs are stabilized now, and also very urgent that the train is moved off the bluffs as soon as possible and well before 2050,” said resident Udo Wahn, at the Aug. 5 council meeting.
Kaily Wakefield, a policy coordinator with the Surfrider Foundation’s San Diego chapter, also urged moving the tracks, and said officials should be weary of allowing temporary fixes such as seawall repairs to “end up being a long-term fix.”
Councilman Dwight Worden said near-term projects like these are “absolutely essential” to keep the railroad safe and secure for the time being.
“This is not instead of getting the tracks off the bluff and moving them inland, this is in addition to,” he said. “We need to do this now so the train doesn’t fall off (the bluff) in the near future.”
SANDAG has estimated the cost of the current stabilization project to be $3.1 million. But according to Kimy Wall, SANDAG and NCTD are still in the process of reviewing construction bids.
The project will be funded through the State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP).
SANDAG is planning to host a workshop with residents in September to address more specific details of the project, according to SANDAG Principal Engineer Bruce Smith.
Bluff stabilization projects recently received a boost from the state — Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) announced in June that $6.1 million of the state’s budget will be allocated to bluff stabilization projects. According to Wall, such funds will help SANDAG and NCTD complete designs for future projects — DMB5 and DMB6 — and partially fund construction.
She said the design process for DMB5 is anticipated to begin in the fall of 2019.
The total cost estimates for stabilization projects DMB4, DMB5, and DMB6 is approximately $80 million to $90 million.