Pismo Beach approves sea walls to stop bluffs erosion


Pismo Beach officials plan to spend about $2.3 million to install two sea walls to stabilize eroding bluffs in Shell Beach.

Doing so would protect a sewage pumping station — failure of which would cause 500 to 600 homes to be without sewage services — and prevent further erosion beneath part of Ocean Boulevard, which was happening at an “alarming rate,” city Public Works Director Dwayne Chisam said.

This week, the Pismo Beach City Council unanimously approved a proposal for the emergency repair work, which could start in six to eight weeks, Chisam said.

City officials had issued an emergency permit in December after an inspection revealed that parts of the coastal bluff had become unstable and were in danger of collapsing.

Shortly after, the California Coastal Commission sent a letter questioning whether there was clearly “a sudden and unexpected occurrence that allows for issuance” of the emergency permit.

On Wednesday, a coastal planner for the commission, Madeline Cavalieri, said she hadn’t spoken to anyone from Pismo Beach since the holidays and was unaware of the council’s action Tuesday night.

“Commission staff will be following up on the issues we laid out in the letter,” she said, adding that both sides have acknowledged a need to work together cooperatively.

Coastal commissioners would have an opportunity to appeal the project after the city’s Planning Commission has approved a coastal development permit for the work.

That’s likely to happen in 60 to 90 days, possibly after construction has already begun.

The work would target two locations: the sewer pumping station and public-access stairway at Vista del Mar Avenue and Ocean Boulevard, and a section of Ocean Boulevard between Wawona and Capistrano avenues.

The section was closed to vehicles in mid-December and will remain closed until the work is complete. Chisam said erosion behind an existing retaining wall has worsened since then.

The new sea walls would be sculpted and stained to fit in with the natural bluffs. They would be anchored into bedrock at the base of the bluff, and no boulders or other material will be placed on the beach, Chisam said.

The project would be funded through a variety of sources: money from maintenance projects the city has deferred, general fund reserves and federal and state funds, including $865,000 from the state Department of Boating and Waterways.

The last time the city undertook a similar emergency project was in December 2009, when a sea wall was constructed south of Dinosaur Caves Park near clay tennis courts off Price Street. The design work will be done by the same firm, San Diego-based TerraCosta Consulting Group.

In 2010, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released a report identifying six locations — including the Vista del Mar Avenue pumping station — suffering from severe and accelerating erosion from waves undermining the base of coastal bluffs.