Red Tape Mires Sandy Solution to Beach Erosion


For years, the ocean's pounding waves have wreaked havoc on Ventura County's shore, chewing up the bike path along Surfers Point and eroding the coastline along Hueneme Beach.

It's not the ocean's fault--there just isn't enough sand getting to the beach, thanks to such man-made barriers as the Ventura Freeway.

To combat the problem, environmentalists came up with what seems to be an obvious solution: bringing in sand--tons of it. They proposed that truckloads of sand from winter landslides be used to shore up the damaged beaches.

But getting approval to use sand to fight beach erosion can be a bureaucratic nightmare, activists say. Because of that, Caltrans now sends most of the sand it scrapes up from landslides to private developers.

"All the landslides you have on highways that may get trucked inland for some development should be going to the beach," said Kevin Ready, executive director of Beacon, an anti-erosion organization that represents five coastal cities, and Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

To use the sand, cities are required to get permits proving that it is appropriate for a particular beach, but that takes as much as nine months, too long to be worthwhile, Ready said.

His organization is hoping to work out permits ahead of time from a variety of agencies, including the California Coastal Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers, with the promise that it will test the sand after a landslide.

Officials are now focused on shoring up six beaches in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties: Hueneme Beach, Oxnard Shores, Surfers Point, Oil Piers, Carpinteria and Goleta Beach.

"It's a huge problem. There are some beaches that used to have a 100-yard white beach, and now waves crash right into the riprap," Ready said.

Beacon recently received about $165,000 from the state to work on the project.

Officials with the California Department of Transportation say they would happily oblige if Beacon can get the approvals it needs.

"I tell them I'd give them all I can get," said Caltrans maintenance manager Wayne Johnson.

Johnson said he stores up to 50,000 cubic yards of sand collected during the winter, the equivalent of about 5,000 truckloads of sand and dirt that would otherwise be spreading across the beach from nearby hillsides.

Some local beaches already receive sand from harbor dredging, but it doesn't amount to that much, experts said.

Most environmentalists think of this kind of tactic as a stop-gap solution, short of stemming the problem entirely by removing sea walls and the Matilija Dam.

But "it's a step in the right direction," said Chris Webb, a coastal scientist with Moffatt & Nichols Engineers in Long Beach who is working on the project. However, he added, "to solve the problem, there's a much larger-scale program that must be done."

Meanwhile, similar proposals are in the works elsewhere.

In Carlsbad, a proposal got bogged down after a homeowner complained about the storage of the sand. San Clemente is several steps behind in a similar process.

The major concern is that the dirt from inland areas not have any adverse effects, either environmentally or to tourism.

"You don't want to dump a bunch of smelly mud," said David Castanon, who handles the area from Los Angeles County to Monterey for the Army Corps of Engineers. But "I don't think you'll find anyone opposed."

The sand would also need to be tested for grain size and to make sure there would be no biological effects on sensitive areas, such as where grunion spawn or least terns hop.

Webb said it could take about six months for the process to work its way through all the involved agencies.

"All five counties in Southern California have a lot of erosion," he said. This "is just a good idea that needs to be tried."

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