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Pismo city council approves seawall project

dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Over opposition from the state Coastal Commission and members of a local environmental organization, the Pismo Beach City Council gave the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers its blessing to install seawalls to protect two sewage lift stations threatened by bluff erosion.

“We need to protect our vital infrastructure,” Councilman Kris Vardas said before the council’s unanimous vote Tuesday.

The two proposed vertical walls would not be built immediately; the design phase of the project could take about a year, with construction starting in 2013, said Marriah Abellera, a coastal planner with the Corps’ Los Angeles District Office.

But that timeline does not please members of the local Surfrider chapter, who agree with the Coastal Commission’s view that the project is not necessary at this time and is inconsistent with policies in the Coastal Act.

“There is no emergency,” said Jennifer Jozwiak of the San Luis Obispo Surfrider chapter. “The bluffs aren’t eroding that quickly.”

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.

According to the Army Corps of Engineers, erosion of coastal bluffs at these locations threatens to damage pumping stations that raise sewage from a lower pipeline to a higher one. A landslide at a lift station could rupture a pipeline and cause a large sewage spill into the ocean.

The Corps examined six locations in Pismo Beach that need seawall protection, but the agency only has enough money to protect two lift stations considered the highest priorities. The Corps has $5 million available; the project is estimated to cost $3.7 million.

Coastal Commission staffers say the rate of bluff erosion is low at the two locations, about a half a foot a year. The St. Andrews lift station, at Seacliff Drive and Baker Avenue, and the Vista del Mar station would be at risk in about 24 and 40 years, respectively, which does not constitute an emergency.

The commission, once it receives a letter from the Corps that it intends to proceed with the project, could ask for mediation or go to court, said Mark Delaplaine, the commission’s federal consistency supervisor.

Coastal commissioners in March denied that the project is “consistent to the maximum extent practicable” with state coastal development rules. They instead recommended the city take an alternative action, including relocating the sewer lines and lift stations, narrowing Seacliff Drive and Ocean Boulevard, or installing drainage improvements to minimize bluff erosion.

Those options would be prohibitively expensive, Pismo Beach staff said. Public Works Director Dwayne Chisam estimated the cost to relocate the lift stations and sewer lines at $12 million to $13 million for the St. Andrews lift station and $70 million for the Vista del Mar lift station.

If the project proceeds, the city will pay 35 percent of the total cost, and the rest is proposed to be funded by the state department of Boating and Waterways, Chisam said.

In addition, the city plans to spend an additional $350,000 to install a stairway at Memory Park to access the beach below, near the St. Andrews lift station.

Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.

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