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Chula Vista bayfront gets a literal boost as port prepares for climate change

Chula Vista bayfront gets a literal boost as port prepares for climate change
Chula Vista's bayfront is the future site of a $1.1-billion hotel and convention center. To protect the development from potential sea level rise, the Port of San Diego is elevating the land by 14 feet. (Dennis Walker)

Chula Vista is rising — literally.

To account for potential sea level rise, the Port of San Diego is elevating a portion of the city’s bayfront by as much as 8 feet in preparation for a $1-billion hotel and convention center.

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The soil also will improve drainage and prepare the area for roads, utilities and other infrastructure required for the development, which is expected to generate thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenue for Chula Vista.

When all of the soil is moved, the area will be 14 feet above sea level.

The Chula Vista bayfront elevation project is just one of several the port is undertaking to prepare for sea level rise. The agency manages 34 miles of waterfront real estate throughout San Diego, including hotels, restaurants, public parks and museums.

For more than a decade, planners at the port have calculated potential sea level rise into future projects through vulnerability assessments. This year marks a significant shift in which those abstract plans have materialized into concrete projects, regional experts say.

“Sea level rise, for a long time, has been focused on vulnerability assessments and how to integrate that information into local plans,” said Dani Boudreau, vice chair of the San Diego Climate Collaborative.

Apart from the bayfront project, the port is elevating the Shelter Island boat launch by 2 feet and building an oyster reef along Chula Vista’s shoreline to prevent erosion. Additionally, the Brigantine Portside Pier project is under construction.

The Climate Collaborative is made up of cities and regional agencies such as the Port of San Diego. Its goal is to provide a regional forum to talk about preparing for the effects of climate change, reducing carbon footprints and mitigating greenhouse gases.

The collaborative helps its members develop effective practices, share resources and come up with a regional strategy.

Because San Diego is so geographically diverse, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to climate change, said Philip Gibbons, program manager for the Port of San Diego.

For example, North County’s coastline is largely cliffs and needs to guard against erosion, while the South Bay is densely populated and more threatened by flooding.

To calculate potential sea level rise, the port uses projections from the state of California Ocean Protection Council. In March, the council released an updated report stating that sea level rise could be between 2.5 feet and 6.9 feet by 2100.

A more recent report released in September by the California Coastal Commission said sea level rise could be as much as 10 feet, depending on the condition of Arctic ice sheets.

According to models from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, several homes in Coronado, Imperial Beach and Mission Beach would be underwater with 4 ½ feet of sea level rise. Parts of Chula Vista’s bayfront, Shelter Island and the San Diego Convention Center would be vulnerable to flooding.

An economic impact study commissioned by the Climate Collaborative found that from $395 million to $451 million of commercial and industrial property throughout the county could be lost annually if sea levels rise by 6.6 feet.

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Solis writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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