Surfers Beach Erosion Control and Beach Restoration Project

Background: The Pillar Point outer breakwater was built and is maintained by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers. After World War 2, Coastside and other citizens petitioned Congress to provide a harbor of refuge for the fishing fleet. In 1947, the Army Corps of Engineers recommended constructing the breakwater. It was built between 1959 and 1961, with an addition to the west arm in 1966-67.

Erosion of Surfers Beach at an increasing rate has occurred since the east arm of the federal breakwater was built (See Section 216 Initial Appraisal below). This is a longstanding concern of beach users, surfers, local citizens, the Harbor District, the County, and Caltrans, especially because of concerns regarding protection of Highway 1. The District and harbor users have also been concerned with the loss of vessel anchorage area within the outer harbor as a result of sediment trapped behind the east arm of the outer breakwater. (see Bathymetry Study & Outer Harbor Channel Design following)

In 2007, the Harbor District asked the Army Corps of Engineers to investigate the erosion along the approximately one mile of shoreline from the foot of the breakwater to the vicinity of Medio Creek, in Miramar. At this time the District had been approached by some local surfers who expressed concerns about loss of beach. The Corps completed a Section 216 Initial Appraisal in July 2009 (see Section 216 Initial Appraisal below), which concluded that there is a federal interest in addressing shoreline issues arising from the breakwater construction.

The District and the Corps signed a Feasibility Cost Share Agreement (FCSA) in September 2010 for a project under Continuing Authorities Program (CAP) Section 111 Mitigation of Damages Caused by a Federal Navigation Project. The Corps is the Lead Agency for the project; the District is the Local Sponsor. This FCSA provides for a 50:50 cost share between the Corps and District for the pre-design phase of the project.

The project’s two-to-three year feasibility phase, now in progress, is focused on identifying the feasibility of a possible project that would demonstrate solution(s) to the beach erosion problem that will have no or minimal environmental impacts on marine sanctuary and other natural resources. This could potentially include transferring sediment trapped behind the breakwater onto Surfers Beach according to a permitted project design.

To facilitate public and technical input to the Corps during this phase, the Harbor District organized a Working Group consisting of concerned federal and state agencies, representatives from elected Representatives’ offices, technical resource persons, and community residents. The Group has been convened and will continue to function during the Corps project. The Corps has convened public meetings, with the District’s assistance and coordination. The District notices these meetings on its website and at the PPH office.

The Army Corps is finishing its analysis of alternate solutions and is now examining potential project benefits, including economic and environmental considerations, going forward from the start of this project.

District staff has met with representatives from Caltrans and the County Parks Division, and are proceeding with the project to stabilize Highway 1 embankment and provide public access along the highway and down to Surfers Beach.

*****An inter-agency meeting was recently held involving the Army Corps, County Parks and Public Works, Coastal Commission, Caltrans, the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, the Harbor District, and staff from elected Representatives’ offices to exchange information, establish coordination links, and identify next steps for action.

Key Issues: Some community members have expressed concern at the apparent slow pace of the Corps’ project. Questions also have been raised as to why the Harbor District cannot apply for a permit and deposit sediment on Surfers Beach from its launch ramp dredging or from the buildup inside the breakwater. Regarding the first – timing, the Corps’ project development process calls for a Feasibility Planning Phase of 2-3 years duration. (The Corps/District Agreement was executed in September 2010.) Some may be unfamiliar with what seems a lengthy period needed for planning.

Regarding the second, any agency seeking permission to dredge and dispose of the material needs permits, certifications, and approvals from several federal and state agencies. Additionally, for Surfers Beach, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary (which administers sanctuary waters for Monterey Bay in the Half Moon Bay [and Surfers Beach] area) follow a national sanctuary policy that prohibits artificial placement of any material in sanctuary waters. An agency, be it the Army Corps or the Harbor District, could seek sanctuary approval to deposit sediment on Surfers Beach, but they would have to demonstrate that such action would have no negative impact on sanctuary resources, species and habitats. And then, the sanctuaries would have to find a way to grant an exception to the national policy prohibiting artificial placement. Moreover, the applicant agency would still need all the other permits and approvals.

An essential part of the Army Corps’ Surfers Beach project, for which the District is the local sponsor, is precisely to develop the information necessary for the sanctuaries, and other permit agencies, to reach a positive conclusion about the project’s impacts.

Regional sediment management planning is beginning for the Santa Cruz Littoral Cell, which goes from the northern end of Monterey Bay north to Pedro Point in Pacifica, and which includes the Half Moon Bay area. This effort may provide valuable information regarding possible project alternatives for beneficial use of sand at Surfers Beach that could be favorably viewed by the marine sanctuaries.

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