Feinstein goes to bat for beach project

By: DAVE DOWNEY – Staff Writer North County Times 3-25-07

NORTH COUNTY —- U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., sent letters to a pair of federal agencies last week in a bid to jump-start a stalled $4.5 million study examining options for fortifying three miles of battered North County coastline.

Feinstein last week wrote top administrators with the National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and urged them to resolve differences in the next 60 days over steps that need to be taken to soften the project’s harm to the environment.

The project aims to restore “the historic sandy coastlines in the cities of Solana Beach and Encinitas, whose coastal beaches are among the most severely eroded in California,” Feinstein wrote in both of the letters.

Feinstein said the study was authorized in 1999 and has dragged on for more than seven years, despite initial expectations of finishing in three.

She wrote that $2.3 million of federal money has been committed to the project, with the rest coming from state and local sources.

“The high bluffs along the shoreline have failed dozens of times since 2000, resulting in injuries and one death,” the senator wrote said. “In addition to the dangers posed by falling debris, there are approximately 500 residences located on top of the 70-foot bluffs that are at risk.”

Feinstein said erosion also threatens Highway 101, a key north-south corridor.

In the project’s early stages, the Army Corps of Engineers considered options ranging from building sea walls to installing artificial reefs to protect the fragile bluffs and prevent sand from washing out to sea.

In late 2005, the agency announced it had come up with a plan to fill notches, or holes, in the base of bluffs with “erodable” concrete and to pile more than 1 million cubic yards on three miles of beaches in the communities every five years.

The specially designed concrete is supposed to erode at roughly the same rate as the bluff face. As for the new sand, it is half as much as the San Diego Association of Governments spread on many more beaches from Oceanside to Imperial Beach during a regional project to replenish sand, in 2001.

Bob Hoffman, assistant regional administrator for habitat conservation with the National Marine Fisheries Service in Long Beach, said that as a result, the targeted beaches in Encinitas and Solana Beach would receive two to three times as much as they did in 2001.

That is problematic, he said, because the extra sand likely would harm up to 20 percent of the near-shore marine environment, covering rocky reefs that support kelp and surf grass and serve as habitat for juvenile lobsters.

“Quite frankly, that’s just a level of impact that we’re not willing to allow,” Hoffman said.

The senator suggested that the agency had been ignoring vital information uncovered by the association during the earlier project.

Hoffman said that is not the case. He said the 2001 effort showed how much sand is acceptable and how much is not. If the Encinitas-Solana Beach project were to place roughly the same amount on the beach as in 2001, and even a little more, that would be acceptable, he said.

And it’s not like a larger project would stop the cobble from reappearing, as it did soon after 2001, he said.

“There is no permanent fix when you’re talking about sand,” Hoffman said. “No matter how much you put on the beach, it will eventually all go away.”

Solana Beach Councilman Joe Kellejian, who was in the nation’s capital Thursday for an American Shore and Beach Association conference, said the senator’s letters should help expedite a solution.

“It is a very positive step that a U.S. senator has taken a personal interest in this issue and gotten involved,” Kellejian said. “We do need to move this forward.”

Kellejian said he took Feinstein’s Southern California regional director, James Peterson, on a tour of the project area earlier this month.

“He was amazed at the erosion,” said Kellejian. “He saw that there was no sand and only cobble in certain areas.”

In one of the letters, Feinstein asked the National Marine Fisheries Service to meet with Peterson to help mediate a solution, if one is not found within 60 days.

Contact staff writer Dave Downey at (760) 740-5442 or