Orange County Register: Decades-long project to fortify San Clemente shoreline gets $505,000 funding boost

February 19, 2020
In The News

A two-decades-long plan to bring more sand to San Clemente’s depleted shoreline has received a $505,000 boost from the federal government.

“It’s good news,” said Tom Bonigut, public works director for Orange County’s southernmost city. “We’ve been losing (the beach) over the years. All the long-timers see the change. It’s important for our identity as a beach community, and as a driver for tourism and revenue.”

Funding was announced last week by U.S. Representative Mike Levin (D, Dana Point), who helped secure the funds to be used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to complete the design phase for the San Clemente Shoreline Project. That stage includes environmental permits and two years of monitoring and environmental surveys, which could be completed by the end of the year.

It was also announced that $400,000 in federal funding will be used for planning, engineering and design for the Encinitas-Solana Beach Coastal Storm Damage Reduction Project, in part in response to a deadly incident in which a bluff failed at Grandview Beach in August, killing three people.

“While much more federal funding will be needed to secure our bluffs over the long-term, this is a significant step that was long overdue,” Levin said in a statement.

The funding comes as the California coastline is threatened by sand-starved beaches, a result of sea-level rise and erosion.

The primary purpose of the San Clemente Shoreline Project is to provide protection for the Los Angeles–San Diego–San Luis Obispo Rail Corridor, creating a buffer of sand for tracks that run along the San Clemente coast.

The project, with an estimated total cost of about $11 million, has been in the works since 1999. It calls for federal money to cover about 65% of the funding, with the remainder, about $3.4 million, coming from the city. All but $600,000 of the city’s portion will be covered by state grants, said Bonigut.

“They had to prove once we are going to put sand on the beach, it wouldn’t have negative impacts,” he said of the Army Corps of Engineers. “They were about to stop, they weren’t getting the rest of the money. This lets them finish and meet all the regulatory requirements. It puts us in a position to lobby and get money. It gets us on the cusp of construction.”

He said he’s “cautiously optimistic” that this latest funding will provide the needed momentum to bring the project to completion. When finished, it would result in about 251,000 cubic yards of sand being placed from Linda Lane beach to T-street beach south of the pier.

“It would be enough sand to cover Triton football field, including the end zone, 16-feet deep with sand,” Bonigut said, referring to the San Clemente High field. “We’ve been at this for two decades. Once we do get the money, the project will only take three to four months. The project goes quickly once we get the money to do it.”

The sand stockpile will be dredged from Oceanside, where a barge will haul it up to San Clemente.

“It’s been tested, it’s a designated place where sand piles up offshore,” Bonigut said. “They’d barge it up here and shoot it out to the beach.”

While it may have some impact short term, the project was designed to minimize impacts to the surf breaks. For the past year, surf conditions have been part of the federal study, with cameras set up to monitor wave action.

“We don’t want to cover the reefs, that’s what T-street is,” Bonigut said, referring to one of the town’s best surfing breaks. “We did a lot of modeling, right where the sand is moving around. It shouldn’t impact the surf – it might even improve it.”

Though adding to the town’s sandy beaches for beachgoers is a perk of the project, the main reason the federal government is interested in moving this forward is protecting the railroad.

“Rather than adding more rocks, if you have a wider beach that helps protect railroads,” Bonigut said.

While the north end of the city’s beaches is also sand starved — so much so that the sand disappears during high tide — that stretch of coast was not included in the project because the railroad is protected with rip-rap rocks, or big boulders, that line the tracks and provide a buffer to the beach.

Adding rock boulders — often called hard armoring — to line beaches is a controversial method because, while it may protect infrastructure, it can potentially create more sand loss.

The California Coastal Commission last week denied a proposed sea wall to protect homes in Dana Point, though emergency projects such as nearby Capistrano Beach and San Onofre State Beach have been allowed to add rip rap rocks after beaches were destroyed during storms and high tide events.

Having more sand will help keep infrastructure from being battered by waves.

And ultimately, more sand means more places for the estimated two to three million visitors who come to San Clemente to lay down towels — tourists that spend money and add to the overall economic health of the small seaside town.

“It makes San Clemente an attractive place to visit, having that beach,” Bonigut said.

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