San Clemente’s sand replenishment project resumes after months of delay

As part of a federally supported project, freshly pumped sand hit San Clemente's beaches on Thursday.
(U.S. Army photo by Brooks O. Hubbard IV)

Faced with an eroding coast, San Clemente has restarted a long-awaited sand replenishment project following months of uncertainty and delay.

Security fencing, heavy machinery and large pipes had already moved back to the beach surrounding San Clemente Pier in preparation. Sand pumping began on Thursday.

“We’re only going to be able to do half the beach at this time, and then put off the rest of it until October,” said San Clemente Mayor Victor Cabral. “We’re hopeful all goes well.”


With the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers overseeing the first phase of the 50-year project, beach nourishment efforts first began in December but got off to a rocky start.

Sediment mixed with rock and cobble from an offshore dredging site near Oceanside damaged equipment and pumped sand that officials deemed to be too poor in quality for the project that sought to widen the half-mile stretch of beach between T Street and Linda Lane by 50 feet with 251,000 cubic yards of sand.

A major beach restoration project is delayed as San Clemente officials look to patch up an eroding coastline.

Feb. 28, 2024

The Corps agreed to an initial 70-day delay in January while Manson Construction, its contractor, moved on to another federally supported sand replenishment project at Solana Beach in San Diego County.

With that project now completed, and work wrapped up on beach nourishment in Encinitas, San Clemente is picking up where it left off but with a new offshore dredging site at Surfside-Sunset Beach in northern Orange County, where a round of remediation also recently finished.

Federal and local officials are hoping that everything will go smoother this time around.

“I have communicated my expectation that there cannot be another mistake with the borrow site,” said Rep. Mike Levin, a Democrat who represents California’s 49th Congressional District. “Based on my conversations with all stakeholders, I remain optimistic that it will provide San Clemente the sand it needs.”

A surfer walks past a construction zone in San Clemente before crews began working on a beach nourishment project.
A surfer walks past a construction zone in San Clemente before crews began working on a beach nourishment project.
(Eric Licas )

Besides the sand itself, San Clemente’s beach nourishment restart has other issues to smooth out.

The original $14-million price tag for the project’s first phase was split by a cost-sharing agreement where San Clemente agreed to cover 35% of expenses, while the federal government covered the rest. The city received a $3.4-million grant from the state’s Department of Boating and Waterways to help cover more than half of its costs.

But with Surfside-Sunset Beach being further away than Oceanside, sand transportation costs are expected to increase.

Stage 13 of the project will replenish sand in Seal Beach, Huntington Beach and Newport Beach to provide a protective natural barrier.

Dec. 13, 2023

The estimated upcharge: $2.7 million.

A letter signed by Rep. Levin, Sen. Alex Padilla and Sen. Laphonza Butler on March 20 urged the Corps to find ways to mitigate the expenses.

“The city should not be liable for the additional costs stemming from the unsuccessful attempts to utilize the original borrow site,” it read.

Negotiations continue as Cabral has said San Clemente simply doesn’t have the money.

“The Army Corps is determining how we can lessen the financial impact to the city,” said Brooks Hubbard, a spokesman for the Los Angeles District of the Corps. “One option would be to offer financing options to the city and example financing plans have been sent to the city for their consideration.”

Crews overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are pumping sand on the beach south of San Clemente's pier.
Crews overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are pumping sand on the beach south of San Clemente’s pier.
(Eric Licas)

With sand replenishment slated to cycle every six years throughout the 50-year agreement, Cabral sent a letter of his own to Corps officials that also stated San Clemente is mulling over tax increases to help cover the costs of future phases of the project.

In the meantime, an air quality permit for the project will also hasten the scope and time of the restart.

With less than a month of work-time permitted, crews will hustle seven days a week to get as much sand pumped on the south side of the pier before Memorial Day weekend, which is the unofficial kick-off of the summer tourist season that is vital to San Clemente’s local economy.

The north side of the pier will have to wait until October before potentially getting its share of sand.

“We want to see a full beach with fresh sand ready for residents and tourists to lay down their towels, surf and swim,” Cabral said. “That’s our hope.”