This Memorial Day weekend, thousands of families and visitors will enjoy our beautiful Orange County beaches. They will walk the pier and surf in Huntington Beach, build a bonfire in Newport Beach and play sand volleyball in Seal Beach. Over 50 million people visited Orange County in 2018, generating $ 13 billion in revenue. We live in the most beautiful place in the whole country, and it is up to us to protect it for generations to come.
This is why we are working with local stakeholders to raise awareness of a problem that affects our coastline every day. Sand erosion threatens the safety of people, wildlife and vital infrastructure. For years, we’ve warned the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and federal officials that a lack of action would have a direct and potentially devastating impact on our community.
Each major and minor storm decreases the protective buffer zone between the Pacific Ocean and our homes, businesses and public spaces. Some areas have less than 100 feet of sand protecting them from the ocean. In July 2020, strong ocean waves combined with a high tide event at Newport Beach dominated the coastline and inundated surrounding areas, including neighborhoods and parking lots. Officials had to rescue more than a hundred people and worked quickly to limit the destabilizing impacts. That day, the beach was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But if 2020 had been a normal year, the beach would have been full.
Erosion on the beaches of Orange County dates back to federal projects in the 1940s. The federal government widened Anaheim Bay and built breakwaters and piers to service the new military bases opened to stimulate the military efforts of the US Pacific Fleet. USACE also created flood control projects along three local rivers, and breakwaters were built to create and protect the Port of Los Angeles / Long Beach. This new construction created narrowed beaches along the coastline which were now subject to extreme erosion.
USACE and the federal government, realizing the damage that had been done, took steps to rectify the problem. The project was called the âSan Gabriel Beach at Newport Bay Renovation Project (Surfside-Sunset)â and today is the Surfside-Sunset & Newport Beach Reconstruction Project (Stage 13). The repair project, done in increments, began in 1964 and went through eight additional stages until 1990. The project had an ongoing partnership between the federal government, which provided 67% of the funding, and local communities, which provided funding. provided the remaining 33%. . Local cost sharing was always covered when it was time to move to a new stage of the project.
Then in 1995, after planning for Stage 10, USACE relinquished its responsibilities to Orange County. In 2000, USACE said it was no longer budgeting for any future steps in Orange County. This left communities on the hook at high costs and left the coast at high risk of flooding and damage from major storms.
Despite ongoing local authorization and approval, the delay in federal construction funding made the next step long overdue.
This project has a non-federal cost-sharing agreement with local stakeholders, including the State Department of Parks and Recreation, the City of Huntington Beach, the City of Newport Beach, the City of Seal Beach and the Surfside Stormwater District have already paid their share of the $ 23.1 million cost associated with funding the project in 2018.
However, the delay of the project will most likely require the deposit of additional amounts of sand to increase the 1.5 million cubic yards of sand initially proposed, which will increase the cost of the project.
Our community cannot afford to wait any longer for these projects to restart. New delay measures to mitigate erosion on these beaches will continue to make Orange County more vulnerable to sea level change. As the July 2020 event in Newport demonstrated, our communities are at risk. higher, even under normal conditions. If a major earthquake or tsunami hit the region, we could see significant damage, including loss of life.
Coastal protection is at the forefront of defense. With the threat of rising sea levels and major natural disasters, we need immediate relief. In the absence of action on the part of USACE to fund this essential project, shoreline erosion will continue to reduce the habitat available for many species that depend on this ecosystem and endanger life, property. , the economy and infrastructure of the residents of Orange County.
It is imperative that the Corps move forward on this project immediately. This project – created by the federal government to solve a problem it caused – is obvious. The safety, security and health of our communities depend on it.
Michelle Steel represents the 48th District of California in the United States Congress. Jim Merid is the Director of Environmental Services for the Town of Huntington Beach. Victor Kriss is the president of the Surfside Storm Water Protection District.