Solana Beach, Encinitas keep beach sand project alive

By Joe Tash

After more than a decade of study at a cost of $8 million, the future of a massive beach sand replenishment project for North County’s coastline hinged on the support of the Solana Beach and Encinitas city councils on May 8.

At separate meetings, both councils unanimously supported the project, meaning that for now, planning can continue. The project would have been dead if either council had voted against it.

If it gains final approval and funding, the project — to be carried out by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — would involve moving hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of sand onto the beaches of Solana Beach and Encinitas over the next 50 years.

“We’re never going to get this opportunity again.  We have to take it.  If we don’t, we’re fools,” said Solana Beach Councilman Tom Campbell.

The Solana Beach council voted after listening to about a dozen speakers for and against the project.  Supporters said it would protect the coastal bluffs from storm damage and erosion, improving safety for beach-goers and property owners, and offer environmental benefits.

Opposition to the project came mostly from surfers, who fear that dumping tons of sand on local beaches would affect the contours of the ocean floor and diminish the waves at some of the region’s best surf spots.

Former City Councilman Joe Kellejian, who stepped down from the panel in December after serving for 20 years, told the council Wednesday that if the project does not go forward, years of effort, thousands of hours of work and millions of dollars would go to waste.

“We have a very real shoreline erosion problem to solve,” Kellejian said.  “Without this opportunity, make no mistake, we will end up with more sea walls in this community.”

However, opponents called on the council to work with the Army Corps of Engineers on a less invasive project that would involve putting less sand on the beaches, but also help preserve the area’s prime surf breaks.

Solana Beach and Army Corps staff said Wednesday that environmental studies determined the project would not affect 17 of 21 surf spots that were studied.  Among those that would be affected, however, are three well-known surf spots — Tabletop and Pillbox in Solana Beach and Stone Steps in Encinitas.

“There are plenty of low-quality waves for beginners all over San Diego,” but only a few places with high-quality waves, said Mark Rauscher of the Surfrider Foundation. “You’re about to bury a few of them with this project.”

“As a resident of Solana Beach I am concerned,” said Allison Prange.  “I am worried about my childhood beach.  I don’t want to see it destroyed.”

Officially, the two councils voted Wednesday to draft letters supporting the Army Corps’ preferred alternative among a number of variations on the project.  Without those letters, the project would not have been considered by Army Corps officials in Washington, D.C.

The next step for the project will be a hearing before the agency’s Civil Works Review Board on June 21 in the nation’s capital.  Representatives of both Solana Beach and Encinitas plan to be on hand.

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