As We See It: Meandering bureaucracies

Posted: 02/27/2011 01:30:42 AM PST

This is one creek that just keeps meandering.

Aptos Creek is running across Rio del Mar State Beach as it seeks an outlet to the ocean — but it’s also running through a number of bureaucracies, none of which seem capable of making a common-sense decision.

One way or the other. Either the creek should be allowed to follow a course it seems to repeat every winter storm season — running roughly parallel to the ocean until it finds an outlet — or local, state and federal governments should decide to punch through the sandbar and put the creek back into the course it takes most of the year.

Is that so difficult?

One of the reasons the creek’s path has for the second time in three years became an issue is because people have been allowed to build along the beachfront, on Beach Drive below the cliffs of Rio del Mar.

Homeowners and property owners with vacation rentals rightfully worry about flooding and erosion from the creek’s meandering path.

At the same time, people who just want to walk along the sand between two state beaches have to head in other directions because a newly created lagoon has replaced the beach with a shallow, sometimes stagnant, stretch of water.

Environmentalists, however, have countered that in previous years, local and state officials caved in to pressure from homeowners — and after bulldozing an opening for the creek, created shallow pools that endangered federally protected fish. Let the laws of nature fix the creek, their argument goes, and don’t impose artificial solutions.

And it’s true that Aptos Creek is home to steelhead trout and the tidewater goby fish, both protected, which means any disturbance to the creek requires approval from state and federal government regulating agencies.

In the past, the state — the parks and fish and game departments, along with the Coastal Commission — has listened to pleas from residents and from Aptos Supervisor Ellen Pirie to artificially breach the lagoon caused by the wayward path of Aptos Creek.

One problem this time is that after the county obtained an emergency permit two years ago to breach the lagoon, officials were told by the state that there would not be any subsequent permits issued.

As it is, county and state officials are trying to figure out if there’s an emergency situation that would require breaching — or if it’s just an inconvenience.

Better yet — is there a more permanent solution that would keep this from becoming an annual battle between residents and government agencies?

Lacking that, there might a compromise solution. When the same uproar was heard in 2009 over the creek and lagoon, we suggested an alternative that might be environmentally sound and not disturb the fish: Remove some sand on the berm between the lagoon and the ocean to expedite a natural breaching with the increased water flow from storms like the one that just blasted across our coast. In fact, the lagoon was mostly emptied Friday after the rain-swollen creek punched through to the ocean, even though the breach was quite a distance south of the normal route.

Like we said, a little common sense and nature can straighten out even the most meandering paths.