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Foes Kick Sand on Beach Buildup

Corps of Engineers will probably dump the fill off Newport instead of extending shoreline.

August 23, 2004|Sara Lin | Times Staff Writer

In most coastal cities where beach erosion is a nagging problem, taking free sand is a no-brainer.

Not in Newport Beach.

The Army Corps of Engineers had planned to move 400,000 cubic yards of sediment dredged from the Santa Ana River onto the beach in western Newport Beach. But the scheme met with so much public outcry that city officials are now asking the corps to dump the sand offshore.

The corps wanted to carpet the beach between 32nd and 56th streets, extending the shoreline nearly 250 feet. Environmentalists and residents worried that dumping such massive amounts of sand on a single beach, nearly doubling its width, would dramatically change wave patterns by creating a giant shore break.

"More beach isn't better," said Jim Brooks, a resident who opposes the onshore dumping plan. "What they will do to surfing will cause irreparable damage. We will not be considered a garden surfing spot of the world."

Every day, surfers off Newport Beach catch well-shaped waves; several times a year professional surfers descend by the dozens to favored spots off 56th Street for competitions. And on any given weekend between May and September, city officials estimate, nearly 200,000 people come to Newport Beach.

"It's one of the very best stretches of beach we have at Newport," said Brion Amendt, a resident who owns Newport Channel Inn. "The angle of the beach also creates some of the best waves."

Residents also worry about the quality of sand from the Santa Ana River, a major passageway for urban runoff.

The sediment comes from a portion of the river that stretches from Adams Avenue to the beach. The dredging will cost $4.5 million and is part of a $1.4-billion flood control project.

Plans to spread the sand onto west Newport Beach have been on the table for several years, but after residents packed last week's City Council meeting, officials said they would work with the corps to reach a less dramatic solution: dumping the sand offshore.

"We always realized there would be this kind of concern," said Dave Kiff, assistant city manager.

He said there were similar concerns and questions about wave action and dirty sand from residents in 1997 when Newport Beach dumped 140,000 cubic yards of sand from the Santa Ana River onto the beach.

"We've seen temporary interruption in locals' ability to surf there. But we're talking about weeks," Kiff said. "We do it in advance of winter storms that will put it back to a normal break."

Dumping sand just offshore would cost an extra $1 million to $1.5 million, but it pleases environmentalists and residents. Beaches can benefit from natural replenishment if the sand is put 50 to 100 yards offshore. The silt would have a chance to float off so it doesn't end up on the beach; the waves would cleanse and distribute the sand more naturally.

Without replenishment projects, Newport Beach erodes about half a foot a year, according to a study by the corps. But simply dumping more sand onto shores isn't always the best way to stop erosion, according to the Surfrider Foundation.

On the East Coast, several projects to bolster beaches with dredged fill have raised public safety issues. When the beach is extended too far into the water, the natural slope is replaced by a large drop-off, creating a powerful shore break.

"What happens is you get casual swimmers or people who just want to hang out, and instead of nice little waves lapping up on the beach you have deep water waves just coming up and dumping on the beach," said Mark Rauscher, environmental director at Surfrider.

Besides a shore break, residents worry that river sand could contain trash and other unhealthful debris.

But with the Orange County Sanitation District testing river water quality every weekday, Newport Beach officials don't see that as a legitimate concern.

"It's not toxic sand," Kiff said. "If a storm came along and mother nature were doing this, that same sand would be washed out the river and come roaring onto the beach with the waves."

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