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Cities Aim to Shift Sand to Eroded Beaches

Conservation: Coalition seeks to streamline the process of shoring up coast in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

July 07, 2002|JENIFER RAGLAND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A coalition of beach cities wants to shore up the eroded Ventura County and Santa Barbara coastline by trucking in sand from winter landslides, inland construction projects or harbor dredging.

Though the concept is not new, the proposed method is.

If approved by various regulatory agencies, Ventura County's beach replenishment project would be the first in the nation allowed to place material on sand-deprived beaches as soon as it becomes available, said Christopher Webb, a coastal scientist in Long Beach who is working on the project.

The group passed a major hurdle a month ago when Port Hueneme city officials signed off on the plan.

"This is a pilot idea; no one's ever done it before," Webb said. "The goal is to put sand back into the coastal system to augment a loss of sand over the years. It's just a little baby step in the right direction to solving the problem."

Housing, road and highway development along the coast in the last 100 years has prevented sand from making its way down to the beach naturally from rivers.

As a result, the ocean's pounding waves have eroded once-vast beaches into thin strips of sand, threatening oceanfront homes and diminishing recreation opportunities, said Jonathan Sharkey, a Port Hueneme city councilman.

"Ventura County has the highest percentage of its coast armored with sea walls and revetments of any county in California," he said. "If this sand is available and it's the right kind, why shouldn't it go to the beach?"

But right now, using sand to fight beach erosion is a bureaucratic nightmare. The permitting process for each deposit can take as long as nine months. And because acts of nature such as floods and landslides are unpredictable, it has been nearly impossible to take advantage of the high-quality sand produced by them, Webb said.

As a result, the coalition--called Beach Erosion Authority for Clean Ocean and Nourishment--wants to work out the permits ahead of time for "opportunistic" sand replenishment on six beaches from Goleta to Port Hueneme over the next five years. Under the group's proposal, if sand becomes available, meets certain guidelines and is not contaminated, it could be dumped on the beach.

But that is precisely what one critic of the plan is worried about.

Bill Donovan, a resident of Oxnard Shores, one of the six areas chosen for sand replenishment, said the beach outside his home doesn't need more sand. There is plenty already, he said, and any more would be close to a nuisance.

Donovan also worries about the quality of the sand, saying he does not believe the material would be properly tested, as proponents have promised.

"It would appear the sole motivation is that they need to dump this waste somewhere," he said. "We have vastly too much sand here, and calling it 'nourishment' is a cynical abuse of the language. They're saying they're going to nourish something of which there is an overabundance."

Webb said Oxnard Shores was chosen in part because sand along the coast travels south. Much of the sediment deposited in Oxnard, therefore, will end up in Port Hueneme.

In total, no more than 1.15 million cubic yards of sand could be dumped on the six beaches each year, Webb said, adding that natural rivers now deliver about 2 million cubic yards of sediment to the area.

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