The Coast News Group
There’s more sand at Cardiff State Beach this year thanks to a recent sand replenishment project. The Encinitas City Council is working on a joint sand nourishment plan with Solana Beach that would regularly replenish beaches. During Wednesday night’s City Council meeting, the project moved forward. Photo by Jared Whitlock

Long-term beach nourishment project takes step forward

ENCINITAS — The city has been working on a 50-year sand replenishment plan for 10 years. After two hours of public speakers, the project cleared a key hurdle Wednesday night. 

Councilmembers voted unanimously to fund the final stage of a feasibility study for the plan. As a result, federal officials can now decide whether to allocate money to the project in the next few months.

The federal Army Corps of Engineers signed on to fund part of the project. Prior to council’s vote, officials from the Army Corps said that a “yes” vote backs the project and finishes the feasibility study, but still gives Encinitas wiggle room if the city wants to amend the plan once it’s up for final approval. But they added that federal funding would likely be withdrawn with a “no” vote, or with council dragging its feet.

“If we walk away from this tonight, when we’re coming down the home stretch, that would be very sad,” resident Charles Marvin said. “For 50 years, it would be on us.”

Encinitas and Solana Beach developed a joint plan to replenish nearly eight miles of beaches, from Batiquitos Lagoon south through Solana Beach, excluding Tide Park.

In Encinitas, the plan would dredge sand from offshore and dump it on beaches every five years, adding nearly 100 feet of beach on average. The first cycle would place 680,000 cubic yards of sand, while subsequent ones would unload 280,000 cubic yards of sand. The total cost of Encinitas’ portion of the 50-year project — scheduled to start in early 2016 — is estimated at $108 million.

Encinitas and the Army Corps of Engineers would fund the project throughout its lifetime as funding becomes available.

Supporters of the project said the project will shore up beachside infrastructure and prevent bluff failure, which led to a local woman’s death in 2000. Several noted that unless sand replenishments become the norm, beaches will continue to shrink due to development and man-made dams blocking sediment from flowing into the ocean.

Representing San Diego Surfrider, Julie Chun-Heer said she’s supported many sand nourishments. But she said the 50-year project is problematic because the first cycle of 680,000 cubic yards is three times more sand than past beach replenishments in Encinitas. Consequently, reefs of local surf breaks will be buried by the influx, hurting the wave quality, she said.

Further, she said that the Army Corps of Engineers’ environmental impact report for the project acknowledges that it could diminish the quality of surf spots. But in the event that surf breaks are negatively affected, the plan doesn’t hold the Army Corps of Engineers accountable.

“We would hope you’ll add a monitoring plan, but make sure your monitoring plan has some teeth,” Heer said.

Resident Dennis Lees, a marine biologist, said that replenishments will do untold damage to the marine life in the area. And the added the beach nourishments are “Band-Aids” that don’t “fix the situation.”

Reinhard Flick, the staff oceanographer for the California Department of Boating and Waterways, spoke in favor. He maintained that the project is necessary to prevent the beaches from returning to cobblestone.

Although in support, Mayor Teresa Barth said that she doesn’t want the project to jeopardize new marine protected areas that limit fishing.

“That has additional significant biological benefits to our community,” Barth said.

As well as approving the feasibility study, council will document its concerns with the project and send a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers.

Three weeks ago, Solana Beach approved extra money to finish the feasibility study for the joint project. The feasibility study mapped the cities’ underwater reefs and modeled where sand goes when it moves offshore. It also gauged the environmental impact of the project.

It’s expected the state will reimburse each of the cities $147,000 for the study, according to city staff.

Should federal funding be approved for the sand replenishment in the coming months, Encinitas and Solana Beach will likely be asked to approve the engineering phase of the project later this year. Then the project would go before the cities for final approval.

Thus far, the California Department of Boating and Waterways kicked in $3 million toward the project.

Encinitas and Solana Beach have each funded $500,000 in technical studies and labor that moved the project along. Encinitas’ $500,000 came from the transient occupancy tax — a tax on short-term rentals passed by residents in 2008.

Last year, the Army Corps of Engineers chose from four replenishment alternatives that varied in size and interval.

The initial alternatives ranged from 340,000 to 800,000 cubic yards every cycle for Encinitas beaches.