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Long Beach residents examine breakwater plan

Removing or altering the barrier could bring bigger waves and cleaner beaches but also lead to flooding.

October 10, 2008|Mark Medina | Times Staff Writer

The 55 Long Beach residents who gathered to pore over city maps weren't engineers or oceanographers, but they had plenty of questions -- and plenty to say -- about a proposal that would radically change beach life in their city.

The proposal calls for moving or reconfiguring the 2.2-mile eastern portion of the 8.4-mile San Pedro Bay breakwater. Shielded by the breakwater, Long Beach receives puny waves. Without the cleansing action of vigorous surf, the city's beaches were graded among the dirtiest in California this year.

On Wednesday evening, the 55 residents met with engineers for the first of three public workshops devoted to the Long Beach Breakwater Reconnaissance Study.

Officials from the city and the Long Beach firm Moffatt & Nichol hope these brainstorming sessions will lead to federal support to study the proposal further. Moffatt & Nichol engineers are overseeing a $100,000 preliminary study of the federally owned breakwater.

"You're taking a big chance if you do something without including the community," said Bill Sundell of Long Beach. "It's a good idea to invite the community and invite as much participation as possible."

As the residents gathered in small groups around four tables, a broad range of ideas and questions emerged.

At one table, Dale Brown, who runs the website sinkthebreakwater.com, noted that the Los Angeles River, as well as a lack of ocean waves, contributes to beach pollution.

Indeed, on June 18, the same day the City Council agreed to join the California Coastal Conservancy in funding the breakwater study, a 16,000-gallon sewage spill entered the Los Angeles River near Glendale. A day later, the spill forced the closure of nearly two miles of Long Beach shoreline.

Will Cullen, another city resident, said he "didn't realize until we sat down and brainstormed at our table" that removing the breakwater could leave portions of Long Beach vulnerable to flooding.

Several residents attending the meeting said they appreciated the exchange of ideas.

"I'm used to talking to Surfrider members who just want to bring waves back to Long Beach," said Gordana Kajer, who serves on the executive committee of the local chapter of Surfrider Foundation, a national environmental group.

"Here I'm talking to my neighbors who have homes they want to protect and people who want to go sailing in calm water. We all talked, exchanged ideas and recognized the different benefits to the community."

Congress has denied earlier requests to have the Army Corps of Engineers study a removal of the breakwater, said Tom Modica, Long Beach's manager of government affairs.

Russell Boudreau, principal coastal engineer for Moffatt & Nichol, said the city might be able to secure federal support if it can show economic advantages of removing the breakwater.

His firm will review the ideas collected this week.

"We'll debrief, pull the ideas that we got in and summarize what we found out for the next one," Boudreau said. "We want to show what we've learned in the next [event], but we also want to accommodate the people who weren't [here tonight]."

The next sessions take place Oct. 29 at Long Beach Gas & Grill, 2400 E. Spring St., and Nov. 19 at the Aquarium of the Pacific, 100 Aquarium Way. Both sessions last from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

The likelihood of federal support for a study is still uncertain, but Councilwoman Rae Gabelich remains hopeful.

"I'm pretty sure what we've seen is that it's going to be a very positive possibility," she said. "So I'll hold on to the positive and then fight for the money."

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mark.medina@latimes.com

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