REGION — Contrary to what’s been rumored, a project that could place more than 1.5 million cubic yards of sand on Solana Beach and Encinitas beaches over 50 years “has not died,” Solana Beach City Councilwoman Lesa Heebner said.
In fact, it recently received a recommendation for approval from the assistant secretary of the Army.
“That’s a big milestone for us,” Heebner said at the Sept. 10 meeting.
The two cities have been working with the Army Corps of Engineers for nearly 15 years to reduce damage to more than eight miles of beach beginning at the mouth of Batiquitos Lagoon in Encinitas and stretching south to include the entire 1.7-mile Solana Beach coastline except an area north of Tide Park.
The plan was to use sand from offshore borrow sites to renourish the beaches on a regular cycle for 50 years starting in 2015.
The tentatively recommended plan is to replace 100 feet of beach every five years in Encinitas and 200 feet of sand every 13 years in Solana Beach, which has an initial placement volume of 700,000 cubic yards.
After receiving what Solana Beach City Manager David Ott defined as “unheard of” unanimous approval from the California Coastal Commission the second time the project was presented to that state agency, final plans were submitted in March of this year to the planning division of the Army Corps of Engineers Headquarters.
But a process that should have taken 30 to 60 days was delayed, in part because of some issues with the Encinitas portion of the project, Ott said.
Although those problems were resolved the holdup resulted in the project not being included in the Water Resources Development Act in time to obtain federal funding.
Heebner called that missed deadline somewhat of a “red herring” since it was more of a timing issue with the federal government’s fiscal year. She said it was a “bureaucratic deadline” that “had nothing to do with losing an opportunity.”
The plan was then deemed a “legacy project,” and on Aug. 25 a special meeting was held to determine whether the Army Corps of Engineers wanted to continue to fund projects that had gone beyond a deadline.
The project cleared that hurdle and is now headed for a review by the civil works board, hopefully in February, Ott said.
If it receives support at that level, the next step will be the chief’s report approval, perhaps sometime in summer 2015.
“Then, obviously, that would mean the plan is approved,” Ott said. Following that would be the construction document phase, for which state and federal money is already allocated. That will take about 18 months.
Although the majority of the cost, which could be up to $50 million, will be paid with state and federal money, the Interstate 5 widening project will help with funding.
As part of that project, about 1 million cubic yards of beach-ready sand will be dredged from the San Elijo Lagoon.
That will be a big savings because there will be less of a need to bring in a large vessel to dredge sand from offshore, Ott said.
Although it will still be several years before any sand is placed on local beaches, Solana Beach and Encinitas should have confirmation on whether the project will actually come to fruition by next year.
“This project started almost 15 years ago,” said Mayor Tom Campbell who, along with former Councilman Joe Kellejian, served on the original committee formed during the project’s inception.
He said the two attended “many countless meetings, frustrating meetings with the Army Corps, the consultants and environmental groups.”
“There were many times when we thought that this just wasn’t going to happen,” Campbell said. “But patience, it paid off. Hopefully we can get funding allocated and it will be a great project.”
Environmentalists have criticized the replenishment, saying it could harm marine life and permanently damage surf breaks in the area.