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Solana Beach OKs beach replenishment project

SOLANA BEACH — City Council unanimously agreed at the May 8 meeting to send a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers supporting a proposed 50-year sand replenishment project that has been in the works for more than a decade. 

The goal of the Solana Beach-Encinitas Coastal Storm Damage Project, a joint effort between the two cities and the Army Corps of Engineers, is 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.

Encinitas also approved the support letter at its council meeting the same night. A no vote by either city would have terminated the project.

The plan is to use sand from offshore borrow sites to renourish the beaches on a regular cycle for 50 years starting in 2015.

The Army Corps studied several alternatives that included submerged breakwaters, artificial reefs, sea walls, sand replacement, filling the notches at the base of the bluffs and a hybrid of the latter two.

Ultimately, its preferred option is sand replenishment.

Solana Beach is slated to initially receive 960,000 cubic yards of sand to create a 200-foot beach. Approximately every 13 years the city will receive an additional 420,000 cubic yards of sand.

The recommended plan for Encinitas is to replace 100 feet of beach starting with 680,000 cubic yards of sand and then add 280,000 cubic yards every five years.

It is estimated the project could annually result in $1.14 million for Solana Beach and $1.44 million for Encinitas through sales and transient occupancy taxes from people visiting the coastal cities for their beaches.

In addition to the proposed financial benefits, the project is expected to protect private and public property along the beach, provide an enhanced habitat for shorebirds and grunion and eliminate the need for sea walls, on ongoing controversy in Solana Beach.

The Corps conducted a surfing analysis using backwash changes, intensity for beach breaks, sedimentation changes to reef breaks, the current at surf sites and changes to surf break locations and surfing frequency.

“We did find that four out of 21 surf spots that we analyzed would likely have a change,” Heather Schlosser, from the Corps’ Engineering and Research Department, said. They are Table Tops and Pill Box in Solana Beach and Stone Steps and Southside in Encinitas.

“The study does not attempt to put a value on how the surfing experience would be impacted, just that those four would have a change,” she said.

Project costs to this point are approximately $8.2 million, with the state Department of Boating and Waterways assisting the cities in meeting their 50 percent cost share requirement.

Surf monitoring will be included as part of the project. Representatives from the Army Corps of Engineers said the cities will have flexibility to make adjustments as the project advances.

“You are always in control up until the sand is being placed,” City Manager David Ott added. “At any time you do not have to accept the project.”

The dozen speakers who addressed council were evenly split on their positions.

Coastal property owners support the plan.

“It seems to allow for a lot of flexibility and that’s a good thing,” Jon Corn, representing coastal property owners, said. “It’s key to public safety and it’s also key to recreation and enjoyment of the beach for many people

“It protects city property,” Corn said. “It protects private property and also it can lead to the reduction, or even for a long time, the need for any sea walls. … That’s fantastic for everybody.”

Surfers are not as optimistic, expressing concerns the project will negatively impact reef breaks.

Mark Rauscher, coastal preservation manager for the Surfrider Foundation, said the Army Corps of Engineers justified the destruction of high-quality waves by saying the resulting low-quality waves will be as much of a draw to surfers.

“Only it’ll be beginning surfers rather than those that are more experienced,” Rauscher said. “Unfortunately there is only a limited number of high-quality surf spots that people go out of their way to get to and you’re about to bury a few of them with this project.”

Roger Kube, chairman of San Diego Surfrider, said his group wants the impacts to surf spots analyzed and the initial amount of sand to be reduced. The group is also asking that monitoring be an integral part of the project.

“The proposed monitoring will have no impact on reef breaks that are already buried,” Kube said. “It will be too late.”

Adam Enright said monitoring is “pretty much watching the damage be done.”

“At that point there’s really no going back,” he said.

“In the end we want to support this project as we understand the need to maintain local beaches,” Kube said. “But we cannot support a project that has not addressed our concerns.”

“We have a very real shoreline erosion problem to solve,” said former Solana Beach Councilman Joe Kellejian, who worked on the project since its inception.

He said development and damming the rivers cut off the natural sand supply. “We need to supplement what nature would have provided,” he said.

Kellejian said public safety and the long-term comprehensive shoreline protection are paramount to him on the issue. “No longer do we want to see Volkswagen-size boulders come off of our cliffs,” he said. “The city can’t solve the problem alone. It needs the state and federal government to fund and build this project.”

“This has been going on for close to 14 years,” said Councilman Tom Campbell, who also has worked on the project since its inception. “It’s time to make a decision and move forward. … We’re never going to get this opportunity again. We have to take it, and if we don’t, we’re fools.”

Councilman Peter Zahn agreed. “This is an opportunity that is not going to come around again, or certainly not in the foreseeable future,” he said. “It may be a choice that’s distasteful for many. … We’ve got to bite the bullet and go for this thing.”

Mayor Mike Nichols, a surfer, said he has a vested interest in the success of the project.

“Believe me, I don’t want to be the guy who’s pointed to out in the lineup (and people say), “You’re the one that ruined this break,’” he said.

The project will be presented to the Civil Works Review Board in Washington, D.C., in June. Additional public hearings will be held in both cities in the coming months.

The Army Corps of Engineers is expected to make a decision in November or December, but project funding is still not guaranteed.