U.S. Army engineers learn about sand replenishment project in Encinitas, Solana Beach

Encinitas and Solana Beach city officials hosted colonels from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers March 15 at city beaches to show them the sand replenishment efforts the cities have taken on.During the tour, city officials showed the colonels Moonlight Beach in Encinitas and Fletcher Cove in Solana Beach, both of which have portions covered in cobblestones.

The North County project, conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is an effort to bring more sand to the shores to help prevent the bluffs from being exposed to crashing waves, particularly during the winter season, and thus help maintain residential properties and public facilities on the upper bluff.

The threat of bluff failures has “forced many private homeowners to build seawalls to protect the base of the bluff,” according to a project document.

Another goal is to reduce erosion and shoreline narrowing to improve recreational opportunities, officials said, as well as increase public safety. In 2005, a woman fell to her death after she hopped over a safety barrier at the top of the bluffs in Encinitas.

Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear considered this an important local project.

“Observing a beach filled with cobblestones instead of sand makes the case for funding the sand replenishment program,” she said.

The project — which has been planned for nearly two decades and includes dredging sand from offshore sites to widen the beaches — is expected to cost nearly $174 million in construction costs over the next five decades, and the cities have agreed to share a portion of the costs with the federal and state governments.

The 50-year project was unanimously approved by the two city councils in 2015 and signed off by the U.S. Congress last year as part of the federal Water Resources Development Act.

For the Moonlight Beach project, officials want a 50-foot wider berm, 7,800 feet of sand alongshore, a renourishment cycle of five years nine times and 340,000 cubic yards of sand.

At Fletcher Cove, a 150-foot wider berm, 7,200 feet of sand alongshore, a renourishment cycle of 10 years four times and an initial volume of sand of 700,000 cubic yards are all planned.

The next step is getting funding from Congress, said David Van Dorpe, deputy district engineer.

“Once we complete the design, we can get sand back on the beach,” he said, adding it could take a few years for the funds to be approved

Heather Schlosser, chief of the Coastal Studies Group, said it will take about two years to design and conduct pre-construction monitoring of the beach, including for habitats and surfing conditions.

“We have a little concern for the reefs,” she said. “We don’t expect any environmental impacts in Encinitas but we do expect some potential in Solana Beach. We’ll be monitoring both sites for potential impacts.”

Construction could conceivably start after those two years, Schlosser said.

Col. Peter Helmlinger, who was present on the tour, said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wants to continue to partner with the cities to “lead a successful project.”

“At this point right now, it’s been raised to the next level for action to keep the project moving,” he said.

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