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Pismo Beach approves emergency permits to stabilize eroding bluffs

dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

In an effort to prevent a potential sewage spill, Pismo Beach officials have issued an emergency permit to stabilize eroding bluffs in Shell Beach.

On the same day that the City Council set aside $12,000 for design work for two seawalls, the Coastal Commission questioned Pismo Beach’s need for an emergency permit.

Community Development Director Jon Biggs issued the emergency permit Thursday.

Two locations were identified for immediate work: a sewer pumping station at Vista del Mar and Ocean Boulevard, south of Eldwayen Ocean Park, and a section of Ocean Boulevard between Wawona and Capistrano avenues.

That part of Ocean Boulevard was closed last week after an inspection revealed that parts of the coastal bluff had become unstable. Pismo Beach officials are worried that erosion under the roadway could lead to its collapse, potentially damaging a sewer line.

Fewer than six blocks away, near the sewer pump station, city staff noticed a crack in the bluff top that they’re concerned could slide down and damage the electrical service for the pump, Public Works Director Dwayne Chisam said. Any impact to it could leave 500 to 600 homes without sewer services.

“This is extremely serious,” said Councilman Ted Ehring, a professional geologist who recently visited the sites. “We need to have an action plan as fast as we can get it before the rains occur in January and February.”

The council unanimously agreed to fund design work for the seawalls — one 88 feet long to protect the Vista del Mar pumping station and another, 145 feet long extending parallel to Ocean Boulevard.

If approved, the work could begin in March, Chisam said. The council will discuss funding options at its Jan. 17 meeting for the projects, estimated to cost between $2 million and $2.2 million, with state and federal funds expected to cover about $1.2 million.

Meanwhile, Coastal Commission staff questioned in a letter whether there was clearly “a sudden and unexpected occurrence that allows for issuance” of the emergency permit.

Coastal Planner Madeline Cavalieri wrote that it doesn’t appear the city’s proposed project is “the minimum necessary to protect property that is in danger,” nor does it appear the city has started to evaluate alternative projects.

“These issues should be carefully considered as soon as possible, as failure to address them in a timely manner could result in the need to redesign the project potentially at great cost to the city,” she wrote.Commission staff also believes at least part of the proposed project is in an area where the state panel has jurisdiction, requiring its approval of any development.

City staff believes the proposed seawalls are within the city’s jurisdiction. Biggs noted that he plans to keep the commission informed on the project developments while the city proceeds with the design work.

The city’s Planning Commission will review the permit in March — which could happen after construction has begun. The Coastal Commission could then appeal the Planning Commission’s action.

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