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The US Army Corps; and sand

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
North County Times
October 10, 2001


Usually when you think of the Army hitting the beach you envision young soldiers under enemy fire. Rarely do you picture middle aged men, with clipboards and feasibility studies, trying to prevent sand from slipping from our collective fingers. Well ladies and Gentlemen; the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers has landed in the San Diequito coastal zone for the purpose of spending lot's of money.

Prompted by the Water Resources and Development Act of 1996, which was prompted by the California Coastal Act of 1976, the Army Corp of Engineers has just launched a 3.5 million dollar reconnaissance study as to discover the best way of going about holding back the Pacific. Working under the banners of shoreline protection and environmental restoration, the Corp now has the challenge of placating bluff top homeowners while pretending concern for ecological considerations.

The center of attention is the 8 miles of coast within the boundaries of Encinitas and Solana Beach, including the 900 acre San Elijo Lagoon. The question at hand, is how best to keep sand on the beach, sediment out of the estuary, and homes from falling into the ocean? With millions to spend, and years to spend it, the question is not will something be built, but of what, where, and when. This is, after all, the Army Corp of Engineers we are talking about.

The fact that the Corp has landed should be a clue that a battle is about to ensue regarding how much of the coast will need to be paved in the name of the environment. Options that will be considered are; submerged offshore structures, concrete notch fill, bluff stabilization techniques (read sea walls) berms, and revetments. Non structure elements to be looked at include sand replenishment, best management techniques, increased setback, and planned retreat.

As with every epic battle, battle lines must be drawn. On one side there is the build at all costs contingent otherwise known as the Beach and Bluff Conservancy, on the other side are the realists working under the name of the Cal Coast Advocates. Polar opposites in many ways, this battle will mostly be about armoring the coast as a way of protecting the investments of shortsighted homeowners. In other words this war will be waged between those who enjoy an ocean view and those who enjoy the ocean . To pave or not to pave is now the question.

The real winner in this battle will be the San Elijo Ecological Preserve and the conservancy working to restore its biological treasures. If there is one thing that everyone agrees on it's that something must be done to repair damage to the tidal ecosystem done by a poorly designed transportation infrastructure. Currently being discussed for the San Elijo estuary is how best to restore tidal flow to allow the natural transference of sediments to sand starved beaches. At the top of everyone's list is placing Highway 101 and the rail corridor on trestles as a way of removing earthen barriers that obstruct the natural processes.

As the transportation infrastructure is raised, relocating the Escondido Creek inlet becomes not only possible, but easily achieved. Once sediments have a straight shot to the beach Solana Beach will have more sand along their section of coast, negating the need for sea walls.

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