The San Diego Unified Port District tentatively committed $600,000 Tuesday to study the feasibility of cutting a channel through the Silver Strand, to form a second entrance to San Diego Bay.
The commissioners voted, 6-1, to approve the expenditure, pending a more detailed agreement between the Port District and the Second Harbor Entrance Project, a private group that was incorporated specifically to push the project.
Board of Port Commissioners Chairman Louis Wolfsheimer said afterward that the vote did not mean the Port District was committed to giving the money, but said the final decision would depend on the terms reached by the two parties.
To date, Second Harbor Entrance Project--also known as SHEP--has done some preliminary research and come up with a concept report, which was funded in part by $50,000 from the Port District. Now, according to project director Jack Dimond, a $1.2-million feasibility study is needed to determine if the project can realistically be done.
Funding the New Study
Though $600,000 is considerably more than other public agencies are being asked to contribute to the study, Dimond told the commissioners, “You should support this research because you can’t plan your future activities in the South Bay without putting this to rest.”
The city of San Diego is being asked to contribute $100,000, and the matter will go before the city’s Rules Committee on March 15. SHEP plans to obtain the rest of the money from private donations and grants from the state, the county and South Bay cities.
But, Dimond said, it was important for the Port District to make the first commitment in order to draw other investors, “because nobody wants to be the first guest at the party.”
Dimond said that if the result of the feasibility study is positive, SHEP will “hand the baton to the appropriate sponsor.” But, he said, if the study indicates that a second harbor entrance is a bad idea, SHEP will give up its plans and cease to exist.
The mayors of Chula Vista and Imperial Beach spoke in support of the project, and the mayor of National City sent a letter to the commissioners indicating support.
Fears About Erosion
But several residents of Coronado Cays said they feared that cutting a second harbor entrance through the Silver Strand would only result in irreversible erosion of the sand on the beach and expressed worry that sewage and other pollutants flowing north from Mexico would be drawn into the bay through the new channel.
Cays resident Lou Dyer said he had lived near the beach for more than 50 years and has witnessed erosion amounting to a “catastrophic situation” every time the natural shoreline was tampered with in the form of man-made channels, jetties, berms and breakwaters. “All this is being foisted on us primarily for the convenience of 2,000 or 3,000 boat owners,” he said.
Marine geologist Wendell Gayman told the commissioners that, while a second harbor entrance would cause erosion, the sediment from the beach erosion would end up in the channel, necessitating frequent dredging to keep the entrance open.
Several of the commissioners noted that they too had reservations about the environmental impact of such a cut-through, but said they would stand solidly behind the second channel project as long as it did not prove to be detrimental to the environment.
“Personally, I believe the tidal flushing action of the bay will be improved,” said Commissioner Milford Portwood of Imperial Beach. Commissioner Delton Reopelle of National City said, “I think a final study is a must . . . to address those issues, to zero in on those concerns.”
Only Commissioner Raymond Burk of Coronado opposed the study funding, based on environmental grounds.
“We have many, many priorities standing in line,” Burk said. “I can’t support (spending) $600,000 in public money for a study which, in my opinion, is very likely to end up on the scrap heap.”
Wolfsheimer, while voting for the expenditure, also said he doubted whether the channel would ever be built. Noting that both possible locations of the proposed channel touch either the Silver Strand State Beach or land belonging to the U.S. Navy, Wolfsheimer said, “I’ve read letters from the state park department saying, ‘Over my dead body will you make a cut in there,’ and likewise for the feds.”
“I’m not opposed to a study,” he said, “but $600,000 is a chunk of money. . . . I think the chance of ever having a second entrance is a long shot.”
SHEP representatives will meet with the Port District staff over the next month to work out a funding agreement, which will then be considered by the commissioners at their April 4 meeting.