As part of a $7.7-million project intended to improve safety and reduce dredging costs, Ventura Harbor officials last week finished building a 650-foot rock seawall on the beach south of the harbor.
The South Beach Groin was initially the focus of protests from the Surfrider Foundation, a group of environmentally minded surfers who maintain that the new jetty will cause beach erosion and destroy one of Southern California's top surfing spots.
"We thought it was a real boondoggle. We were all pretty sick about it," said Delia Gorey, treasurer of the local Surfrider chapter. "We're all in favor of making the harbor a safer place--we think that the two other parts of the project are effective."
Harbor officials, however, maintain that the rock structure is needed to catch sand that sweeps into the harbor entrance from the south.
"This is considered one of the most dangerous entrances in Southern California," said Richard Parsons, general manager of the Ventura Port District. "This needs to be done."
The South Beach Groin is the most controversial portion of a massive construction project that began in August. The Surfrider Foundation has protested the jetty from the beginning, and even sent a national representative in March to testify before a congressional subcommittee considering the proposal.
Surfrider members were unsuccessful, and Congress approved funding for the project.
The jetty is the first phase of the $7.7-million project that is being funded largely by federal dollars. In the next few weeks, construction crews will begin work on the second phase--extending the north jetty by 300 feet. The last phase of extending the breakwater by 300 feet is scheduled to be completed next summer.
Parsons said he was relieved that the most politically contentious part of the project did not suffer any glitches during construction. It cost about $1.06 million to build the groin, and construction crews finished on schedule, he said.
The stone seawall is composed of rocks that were purchased from quarries in Riverside and near Lompoc. Some rocks weigh up to 22 tons and were placed by construction cranes, Parsons said. Most of the groin rests on the beach area, and about 100 feet of the structure juts into the water.
The project will save the harbor millions of dollars in dredging costs because dredging will only have to be done every two years instead of every year, Parsons said. Dredging costs about $1.1 million a year.
Gorey contends that the dredging expense--not safety concerns--was the primary reason why the South Beach Groin was built. She said the proposed extensions to the north jetty and the breakwater will be sufficient to trap sand and break waves for the harbor entrance.
Parsons argued that the federal government would only fund the whole project because the South Beach Groin was included. The savings in the dredging costs justify the cost of the project, he said.
Without the South Beach Groin, there would be no project, and the entrance would remain dangerous, Parsons said.
"If we had lost the South Beach Groin, we would have lost the entire project," Parsons said. "The project objectives could not be achieved without the South Beach Groin." The federal government pays for the dredging.
Surfriders were also concerned that the groin would ruin one of the best surfing spots in Southern California, but on Wednesday some surfers said the new jetty has actually improved the surf.
"It made it better," said 20-year-old Ventura resident Jesse Conlan, who has been surfing in that area for about eight years. "It created new sandbars."
It may take awhile before the long-term effects of the groin will be evident to surfers, said Scott Jenkins, Surfrider's environmental director. Over time, beach erosion will cause dangerous waves to break up and down the area within a few miles, said Jenkins, who works as a coastal engineer at Scripps Institute of Oceanography.
Surfing concerns aside, Gorey said she worries about the environmental impact of the new rock seawall, which will trap sands that would normally be shifted downshore to the Oxnard beaches, Gorey said.
"The coastline is eroding at a remarkable rate due to coastal structures," Gorey said.
Bruce Luyendyk, professor of marine geophysics at UC Santa Barbara, said that if sand in the harbor area flows north to south as typical in the rest of Southern California, the new jetty could actually be a hindrance to boaters.
"It will feed sand into the Ventura Harbor and deplete the Oxnard beaches," Luyendyk said.
But officials at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers--which designed the project--maintain that enough sand is swept into the harbor from the south to merit building a rock seawall.
Boat traffic enters the harbor from the south, and according to a study by the Corps of Engineers, commercial fishermen have lost about $500,000 a year because hazardous waves about 110 days a year prevent vessels from entering or leaving the harbor. More than 60 boats have been capsized or damaged since 1982, the report says.
Although Ventura Harbor is owned and managed by the Ventura Port District, the existing north and south jetties at its entrance are designated federal projects.
Harbor officials said it took about a decade to acquire the federal funding for the long-awaited improvement project.
"It's almost anticlimactic," Parsons said. "You spend about 10 years on this thing, and they build the first piece in only 45 days."
Ventura Harbor Harbor officials last week finished constructing a 650-foot groin on the beach south of the harbor. The groin is part of a $7.7-million project to improve safety and reduce dredging costs. Opponents say the new rock structure will cause beach erosion farther south and could affect a prime surfing area.