Solana Beach council unanimously OKs environmental report on sand replenishment

The shores of Solana Beach could soon be sandier, following the City Council’s unanimous approval of an environmental impact report for a 50-year sand replenishment project.

For more than 15 years, Solana Beach has worked with the city of Encinitas and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to plan the joint project, which would create a buffer to protect the coastal bluffs, where continued erosion has become a threat to people and property.

The Encinitas council also unanimously signed off on the report in a separate meeting Oct. 14.

“I’m just really looking forward to having a beach at Solana Beach,” said Solana Beach Councilwoman Ginger Marshall.

Under the plan, the project would use sand to nourish depleting beaches and eroding bluffs. Sand would be dredged from three offshore sites at Del Mar, Encinitas and San Diego, and deposited on the beaches.

If all goes according to schedule, the project could begin in about two years.

Most of the six public speakers at the Oct. 14 Solana Beach council meeting were in favor of the plan. Former Solana Beach Mayor Joe Kellejian was among the community members who urged the council to move forward with the project.

“I got involved with this issue because of safety,” said Kellejian, who worked on the project during his 20 years on the council. He stepped down from the dais when his term ended in 2012. “Safety became an intricate part of this project.”

Representing 430 oceanfront homeowners who are a part of the Encinitas-based Seacoast Preservation Association, Mark Francois said sand nourishment is “the most efficient form of shoreline protection.” He noted that an Encinitas bluff collapsed and killed a woman in 2000.

“Wide, sandy beaches benefit everyone,” Francois said. “We are counting on the cities of Solana Beach and Encinitas to continue their programs of beach nourishment to protect public property, wildlife habitat, recreation, access, safety, tourism and to combat sea level rise.”

As chairman of the Beach and Bluff Conservancy, bluff-top homeowner Chris Hamilton agreed.

“We strongly support this project,” said Hamilton, noting that the Solana Beach-based conservancy represents about 2,000 property owners. “Both the work done by the Army Corps and the city staff is excellent here.”

The plan originally proposed an initial deposit of 960,000 cubic yards at Solana Beach and 680,000 cubic yards of sand at Encinitas, but the project was scaled back because of the California Coastal Commission’s concerns that too much sand could overpower marine habitat and surfing reefs.

Under the revised plans, the project would widen the beaches by a total of 35 acres.

In Solana Beach, the project would create a 150-foot-wide beach along a 7,200-foot-long stretch of shoreline. The initial deposit would be 700,000 cubic yards of sand, followed by 290,000 cubic yards of sand every decade during the project’s 50-year lifespan.

In Encinitas, the project would create a 50-foot-wide beach along a 7,800-foot-long stretch of shoreline. The city would receive 340,000 cubic yards of sand on the beach during the first deposit, and then 220,000 cubic yards of sand every five years for the life of the project.

The combined cost for both cities is estimated at almost $165 million, with $87 million proposed to come from the federal government and the remaining funds from the state and local sources, according to a city staff report.

The environmental report did not identify significant impacts to marine life or surfing in Encinitas. There is, however, the potential for the loss of archaeological resources in the Encinitas and Solana Beach segments, so a monitoring program would be implemented.

The report also stated that the project could potentially affect reefs off the coast of Solana Beach. As a precaution, scientists plan to monitor the reefs before and after the project. If marine life is significantly affected, the Army Corps of Engineers would be required to construct an artificial reef to provide a replacement habitat, according to the report.

Councilman Mike Nichols said an artificial reef should be a “last resort.”

“We would definitely not want it, because that would be a devastation to all the surf,” he said.

Officials from the Army Corps of Engineers agreed to explore other alternatives if such mitigation is eventually needed.

Two speakers also shared concerns about potential impacts to surfing.

“We’re kind of caught in a big pickle here,” said Solana Beach resident Jim Jaffee, a member of the nonprofit Surfrider Foundation.

Officials from the Army Corps of Engineers said the team analyzed 21 surfing spots in the two cities. As part of the revised plan, officials would also monitor surf impacts before and after the project.

After hearing from the community, the Solana Beach council voted in favor of the project, with some council members pointing to the fact that coastal erosion is expected to worsen under sea level rise conditions.

“I think that the benefits of more sand, in light of all the climate change that we’re seeing, and hopefully, the reduction in armoring our shoreline, far outweighs any of the uncertainties — which I’m glad to hear will be monitored very closely and adapted to once we see if there’s anything that’s of negative impact,” Mayor Lesa Heebner said.

“We’re dealing with a very dynamic and changing environment,” added Deputy Mayor David Zito. “We do know what the outcome is if we don’t do anything.”