The California Coastal Commission gave its blessing Wednesday to a proposal to construct a seawall in Pismo Beach that local officials say is needed to protect a section of bluff near a sewage pumping station.
But commissioners also placed an additional requirement on the city — it must return in five years to report on what steps it could take to relocate the sewage lift station.
“There seems to be little question that this needs protection now,” commission Chairwoman Mary Shallenberger said of the St. Andrews lift station, located near Memory Park at Seacliff Drive and Baker Avenue. “We ought to have a report from them ... that says what are the alternatives, the different ways to move it back, otherwise we’re going to find ourselves in exactly the same boat 20 years from now.”
The commission approved the seawall on a 7-3 vote, with Commissioners Steve Kinsey, Martha McClure and Jana Zimmer dissenting. The commission also voted 8-2 to approve an amendment requiring the city to provide a study in five years, with McClure and Zimmer dissenting.
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The city will also be obligated to report back to the commission in 20 years with an update on the condition of the seawall and whether it should remain.
Construction on the seawall could start as soon as March 2014 and wrap up in September 2014.
Officials with the city of Pismo Beach and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed to construct a 147-foot-long, sculpted seawall that ties into the bedrock at the base of the cliff face.
They’re 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 it failed, sewage from the neighborhood could spill directly into the ocean.
The Coastal Commission considered and denied a seawall project at the site in March 2011. Since then, the Army Corps has redesigned the project. The seawall now follows the bluff face more closely and includes a staircase for public beach access.
About 15 people spoke to commissioners about the project, including city officials, local residents and representatives with the San Luis Obispo County chapter of the Surfrider Foundation.
Protecting the aging lift station with a new wall is not necessarily costeffective, argued Jennifer Jozwiak, a surfer and secretary for Surfrider.
“Ultimately, the best solution to protect the public health and deal with the eroding cliff is to move the lift station back to a safe distance,” she said.
But city officials and residents who live near the proposed seawall urged the commission approve it. Some noted that building the seawall would cost less than relocating the lift station, according to a city analysis.
City officials say they’d have to replace the lift station with three new lift stations, requiring Seacliff Drive to be narrowed and turned into a one-way street.
“We did not move there with hopes of having a sewage lift station in our front yard,” said Bernie Suttle, whose home sits across the street from the pumping station.