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A plea for help from a sand-clogged street

dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Discussions about sand in the Oceano Dunes have focused in recent years on the dust that blows from the beach to the Nipomo Mesa. But residents and owners of vacation rentals next to that beach have also been increasingly troubled by sand.

They are seeking help from the county to get past bureaucratic obstacles to clean it up when it washes over them.

Specifically, three homeowners on Strand Way between McCarthy and Juanita streets are asking the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission for a permit that would retroactively approve recent emergency sand removal as well as allow homeowners to remove it as many as five times over the next five years.

The commission has placed the question on its Thursday agenda.For those who live on the Strand, as the area of homes next to the beach is called, this is no small matter.

“There is a long history associated with sand removal near the homes in this area of Oceano,” county planner Nancy Orton wrote in a report to the commission, with “strong winds out of the northwest typically blow(ing) large amounts of sand toward the homes in this area.”The winds have been especially ferocious over the past two to three years, Orton wrote. At the north end of Strand Way between McCarthy and Juanita streets, “sand has overtopped fences, covered yards and piled up against houses, scoured exposed surfaces, and buried the Juanita Street end under approximately 12 feet of sand.”

In the past, homeowners would simply do what they had to when sand built up like this, including using heavy equipment to remove it. But since the state Coastal Act came into being, they need a permit to mechanically move sand.

Because acquiring such a permit takes time, the county has granted emergency permits over the past 20 years. In addition, the state Parks Department has installed fences and planted vegetation to help alleviate the sand buildup.

However, Orton’s report notes, revegetation of the Dunes north of Juanita Street “is notoriously sparse or nonexistent.” To make matters worse, the report says, the area is “directly in the prevailing wind direction from the Pier Avenue sand ramp, where vehicles accelerate to go up the ramp to leave the state park.”

In addition to suggesting ways to solve the problem in an ad hoc way for the immediate future, Orton’s report says the county and the state Coastal Commission are interested in finding long-term solutions.

They are, she wrote, hopeful that “a comprehensive management plan that would focus on preventive measures” could come to pass.

It would be a plan in which sand removal would rarely be needed in the first place because state and county managers would find ways — such as fencing, vegetation and reshaping dunes — to prevent the sand from accumulating in the way it now accumulates.

Part of that solution, she wrote, would be a boardwalk, similar to that north of the Grand Avenue entrance to the beach.

All of that would take time, planning, money and cooperation between such agencies as the county, State Parks and the Coastal Commission, Orton noted.

She said the county staff is working on a proposal and seeking money to explore the issue further.

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