Plans to install two seawalls in Pismo Beach have run into opposition from the state Coastal Commission.
Staffers are recommending the commission rule that the project is premature when it meets Wednesday in Santa Cruz. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to install the seawalls in order to protect two sewage lift stations that are threatened by bluff erosion.
It is unclear what will happen if the commission upholds the staff recommendation. The commission and Corps of Engineers are considered to have equal authority in situations such as this, and the federal agency could install the structures without the commission’s approval.
“They could proceed, and we could take them to court, but that doesn’t happen very often,” said Mark Delaplaine, the commission’s federal consistency coordinator.
The proposed seawalls are located at Seacliff Drive and Baker Avenue and at Vista del Mar Avenue and Ocean Boulevard, both in the Shell Beach area of Pismo Beach. Erosion of coastal bluffs at these locations threatens to damage pumping stations that raise sewage from a lower pipeline to a higher one.
Pismo Beach has six locations that need seawall protection, but the Corps of Engineers only has enough money to protect the lift stations because they are considered the highest priority. A landslide at a lift station could rupture a pipeline and cause a large sewage spill into the ocean.
“Protection of the bluff toe is needed to keep the sea cliffs at these sites from additional wave erosion,” reads the Crops of Engineers staff report.
Commission staffers say the seawalls are not needed at this time. The rate of bluff erosion is low at the two locations, and the lift stations will be safe for an additional 24 to 40 years, which does not constitute an emergency.
“When they do become threatened, the lift stations and sewer lines can be relocated inland and the roads can be narrowed,” the commission staff report states.
Federal and Pismo Beach officials want to go ahead with the seawalls because relocating the lift stations would be expensive, and it is a long and difficult process to line up federal funding for such projects.
Wednesday’s hearing will determine whether the seawall project is “consistent to the maximum extent practicable” with state coastal development rules. If the commission rules that it is not, the two agencies would likely try to come to some kind of compromise to avoid a legal fight.
“There is some tension in that we’d have to figure out what to do,” Delaplaine said. “It is a process that fosters negotiation.”