Last hurdle for Twin Lakes beach project — huge pile of sand

By Jason Hoppin

Santa Cruz Sentinel

Posted: 07/31/2013 06:18:48 PM PDT

Santa Cruz County’s beachfront makeover finally goes before the Coastal… ( Dan Coyro )

SANTA CRUZ — The state Coastal Commission is drawing a line over 10,000 cubic yards of sand, a potential wrinkle for long-planned improvements at Twin Lakes State Beach.

While the notoriously finicky commission’s staff has endorsed the $4.5 million project, which is aimed at improving beach access east of the Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor, it is concerned about a plan to use beach sand as backfill for a small bluff armoring project between Seventh and Fifth avenues.

Instead, staff wants the county to haul sand to the site, a cost the county says it cannot bear. Versions of the project have been around for decades, and the county is only now moving forward after setting aside funding before the state ended redevelopment.

“We don’t want a condition that would kill the project,” Supervisor Neal Coonerty said.

Ever protective of the coastline, the Coastal Commission has strict rules about construction on beaches. The county says the armoring is needed to protect the revamped road and other infrastructure near Twin Lakes, among the most-visited beaches in the county.

Commission staff agrees. The dispute is over where to get the sand, with the county arguing that 10,000 cubic yards is a drop in the bucket compared to the typical 200,000 to 300,000 cubic yards dumped on Twin Lakes annually by commission-permitted dredging operations at the harbor.

To back up their position, the county enlisted the help of noted marine scientist Gary Griggs, who has studied the county’s surprisingly volatile beaches extensively. Between summer and winter, extreme amounts of sand move on and off Twin Lakes, even more during storms.

“It is quite honestly in the background noise and insignificant” given how much sand moves across the beach, Griggs wrote to the commission.

But commission staff does not agree.

“It has not been the commission’s practice to allow the use of native beach sand as construction materials because beach sand is part of the shoreline sand supply system, and its use is directly contrary to the basic premise” of coastal construction rules, the staff wrote in a report on the project. “It is not clear how the use of over 10,000 cubic yards of beach sand can be found consistent with” those rules.

Coonerty also said that while the commission’s position is aimed at protecting the environment, requiring the county to truck in sand wouldn’t be much of an environmental benefit.

“It’s 570 truckloads. That’s not great for the environment,” Coonerty said, adding that the county’s multimillion-dollar investment in the beach could stand as a mitigating factor to any sand needed for the project.

Beachgoers now park in a haphazard jumble along the shoulder of East Cliff Drive, leaving little room for bikes or pedestrians. The project will reclaim some space from private homeowners who’ve encroached on county property over the years, adding parking spaces and bike and pedestrian lanes.

It also will increase the size of the tight roundabout at the harbor entrance, adding a bronze pelican sculpture in the center. Benches and visual improvements are also on tap, which has been occurring during the past several years along East Cliff Drive.

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