Pismo Beach seawall plan back before Coastal Commission

Panel denied the project in 2011, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has made changes and sees it as a vital safety issue

clambert@thetribunenews.comJanuary 1, 2013 

Nearly two years after it denied a seawall project in Pismo Beach, the California Coastal Commission will consider a revised proposal — and this time, commission staff is recommending approval of the plan.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been working for several years with Pismo Beach on a plan to protect the St. Andrews sewage pumping station, located 12 feet from the edge of the bluff on Seacliff Drive at Baker Avenue, near Memory Park.

City officials are concerned that a large storm could cause the bluff to fail and damage the lift station, which raises sewage from a lower pipeline to a higher one.

“If that were to fail, the sewage from that entire neighborhood would spill directly into the ocean,” 

Associate Engineer Ben Fine said.

The Coastal Commission considered a seawall project at the site in March 2011 but determined the Army Corps “had not made a compelling case that lift stations would be threatened with failure in the near term,” according to a commission staff report.

However, the Corps maintains that erosion occurs in the area in hard-to-predict episodic events, cracks are forming in the upper bluff, and it makes more sense to plan for the seawall than to wait for an emergency before acting.

“We tried to explain that even though the erosion rate could be half a foot a year, the shoreline is subject to an episodic erosion rate where it sometimes falls off in chunks,” Monica Eichler, a project manager with the Corps’ Los Angeles district office, told the Pismo Beach City Council during an update on the project Dec. 18.

The Coastal Commission’s senior staff geologist, Mark Johnsson, visited the site and agrees that relying on an average erosion rate is not the ideal way to determine a realistic threat scenario for the bluff area.

“While the lift station may not be subject to imminent threat at this time, all it would take could be one large storm even to reach the point where the lift station would be at risk,” the commission’s staff report reads in part.

The Corps redesigned the project so the seawall is higher on the bluff and doesn’t touch the beach, more closely follows the bluff face, and includes a staircase for public beach access. Doing so would protect the sewage lift station, the road and a portion of Memory Park, according to the Corps.

But at least one local organization is not happy about the proposal. Brad Snook, chair of the Surfrider Foundation’s San Luis Obispo chapter, told the Pismo Beach council that a seawall causes more problems than it solves.

“When you add a permanent barrier to an eroding system, the energy tries to go around that barrier,” Snook said, “so in the case of seawall, the energy is going to be pushed elsewhere.”

But local resident Marilee Hyman countered that while seawalls may have problems, the city needs to protect its public infrastructure.

“Nothing is permanent — all it does is slow down ‘ma nature’ — but we should take some action now and not wait,” she said.

The Corps and the city also maintain that relocating the pumping station would be more expensive than building a seawall. In response to a Coastal Commission request, the Corps estimated that relocation would cost $3.5 million.

By comparison, construction of the seawall is estimated at $2.7 million, with the Corps paying a majority of the cost.


If you go

The California Coastal Commission will consider the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ plan to build a seawall in Pismo Beach on Jan. 9. The meeting starts at 8:30 a.m. at the Veterans Memorial Building, 780 Bello St. in Pismo Beach. For more information, go to www.coastal.ca.gov/mtgcurr.html.


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