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Keeping OC beaches sandy is a ‘priority,’ but when they’ll get federal funding remains unclear

Keeping Southern California beaches sandy is a top priority, U.S. Army Corps of Engineer officials said, but local projects are competing against others across the country for federal funding.

Several sand replenishment projects from Surfside to San Clemente and further south in San Diego are in line to request federal funds in the next fiscal year, pending completion of necessary documents, said Susie Ming, U.S. Army Corps of Engineer Los Angeles District project manager.

But whether or not they’ll be approved remains unclear.

Representatives of the Army Corps of Engineers are currently working on the Surfside-Sunset Beach Nourishment Project to make sure all the construction and environmental documents are in place to obtain 1.75 million cubic yards of sand if funding is approved, Ming said.

The project injects sand at Surfside that ocean currents and waves then feed down 12 miles of coast, helping fill out shorelines in Huntington Beach and Newport Beach. The project has been done every five to seven years since the 1960s, but a 13th round hasn’t happened since 2010 and local officials from coastal cities have been voicing their concern about the long lapse.

A couple stand with their dog near the Balboa Pier in Newport Beach as they look down at beach erosion caused by a storm. City officials worry about the dwindling amount of sand, in part due to a sand replenishment project in Surfside-Sunset beaches not happening since 2010. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

“It’s a priority for our district. We do all that we can, when we prioritize it in our budget,” Ming said. “Our project competes against all the projects, regionally and nationally. There are many projects and a fixed budget.

“I don’t have an exact reason why it has not gotten funding,” Ming said. “But it is and continues to be a priority for our district.”

The impact of the delay is starting to show, local officials have said, as the sea creeps closer to homes, businesses and roads that are vulnerable to storm and tide damage.

A pending project partnership agreement with the Department of Boating and Waterways should be complete in coming months, Ming said. With that and the other completed documents in hand, district staff can again request funding from Washington, D.C. in the fiscal year 2022 budget, she said.

Documents had already been completed to request 1.2 million cubic yards, but since it had been a decade since the last project, they wanted to request funding for an increased amount of 1.75 million cubic yards, she said.

Current cost estimates are at $23 million, Ming said. Local officials recently speculated the delay in time could have jumped costs to $50 million.

The project will need $15.5 million in federal funds and to have 33%, or $7.63 million, covered by local agencies, Ming said.

In 1962, Congress passed the Rivers and Harbors Act, which required the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to address the impacts of the constructed flood control structures on the sand deposits that should be happening naturally along shorelines.

The first Surfside-Sunset Beach Nourishment Project was completed in 1964, which deposited 1.5 million cubic yards of sand.

The planned 13th project was supposed to be due in 2018.

The coastline between Anaheim Bay Harbor and Newport Harbor has experienced “noticeable and dramatic degradation,” Newport Beach officials recently said in a report to the City Council.

Newport Beach made national news last July when Balboa Peninsula and its beach parking lots, streets and homes were flooded with up to three feet of salt water when a high tide hit during a big swell.

Congresswoman Michele Steel has joined local cities to lobby for funding, an issue on her radar for years. In 2018, she joined a tour of the area to show the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers how sand was shrinking in the Surfside area.

In a recent op-ed piece co-authored by Steel, she argued the erosion on Orange County’s beaches can be traced back to federal projects in the 1940s, with the widening of Anaheim Bay and constructed breakwaters and jetties for the new military bases and Los Angeles/Long Beach harbors.

“This is totally man-made erosion,” Steel said.

The region’s beaches are a valuable economic engine – 50 million people visited Orange County in 2018, bringing in $13 billion in revenue.

“Every major and minor storm diminishes the protective buffer between the Pacific Ocean and our homes, businesses and public areas. Some areas have less than 100 feet of sand protecting them from the ocean,” Steel said in her piece.  “This new construction created narrowed beaches up and down the coastline that were now susceptible to extreme erosion.”

She argues in her piece that the Army Corps of Engineers “abandoned their responsibilities to Orange County.”

The $15.5 million is a small ask of the federal government, Steel said, considering other projects across the country that cost into the billions of dollars.

A $158.3 million project to re-sand eroding beachfronts on Miami Beach, Bal Harbour and Sunny Isles Beach will be fully paid by the federal government out of the Bipartisan Budget Act, which Congress passed in February 2018 and authorizes beach re-sanding and hurricane protections in Miami-Dade, Miami Today reported. 

Steel said she has a meeting in coming weeks with officials in D.C. to discuss the importance of the Surfside-Sunset project, arguing not only is the region in danger of flooding as was seen in Newport Beach last year, but the loss of sand also impacts local wildlife, including some endangered bird species that nest at local beaches.

Flooding on July 3, 2020 washed sea water into parking lots, streets and homes on Balboa Peninsula. Newport Beach officials say their beaches need help from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to keep ocean water from causing destruction. (Photo courtesy of @surflick/ Brandon Yamawaki)

“They really have to put sand back on the beach. That’s what we are asking,” Steel said. “The bottom line is, just give us sand.”

Ming emphasized the Surfside-Sunset project has not been abandoned.

“I don’t know if I can speak to how other projects are getting prioritized,” Ming said. “There are other emergency projects that come about. I don’t have a direct connection between those and why Surfside-Sunset has not received funding.”

Some funds have been prioritized locally for the Encinitas shoreline following a bluff failure that killed three people in 2019, she said.

“That has pushed that project we have in San Diego forward,” she said. “There’s definitely a priority, sadly, due to the fatalities.”

Other local projects are also in the works, Ming said.

San Clemente last year received federal funding, about $500,000, for the design phase on a two-decades-long plan to add 251,000 cubic yards of sand from Linda Lane beach to T-street beach south of the pier. Local Army Corps reps are also planning to ask for funding for the $11 million dollar project to be included in next year’s budget, Ming said.

And, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the city of Newport began dredging the Newport Bay Harbor entrance channel last month, a $3 million project expected to wrap up in late June.

About 68,000 cubic yards of sediment will be removed from the entrance channel, with an option to remove an additional 77,000 cubic yards from the main channel. Beach-quality dredged material from the project will be placed south of the Balboa Pier, where last year’s flooding occurred.


Source: Orange County Register

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