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Oceanside to advance contentious beach groin plan with $2.5 million contract

A controversial plan to keep sand on Oceanside beaches by building rock groins or an artificial reef returns to the City Council on Wednesday for the approval of more planning expected to cost $2.6 million.

“Anything we do to introduce more sand and help out our down-coast neighbors is a win,” Oceanside Councilmember Ryan Keim said Thursday. “Beaches are regional issues … we want to get everybody on board with it.”

An Oceanside study in 2020 determined that a consistent source of high-quality sand coupled with the construction of retention structures such as rock groins or an artificial reef were needed to preserve the city’s eroding beaches.

Retention structures prevent sand from flowing with the ocean’s predominantly southern current. While that may be good for Oceanside, cities to the south fear the devices would stop sand that otherwise would end up on their beaches. As a result, city councils in Carlsbad, Solana Beach and Del Mar voted last year to oppose the Oceanside project.

Since then, Oceanside has tried to reach out to the cities and assure them that what’s good for Oceanside is good for all, Keim said.

Keim serves as Oceanside’s representative on the San Diego Association of Governments’ Shoreline Preservation Working Group. The group has 13 members from the county’s coastal and bayfront cities who meet quarterly to discuss coastal issues.

“If you do the project properly, it will be more sand flowing south,” Keim said. “It will introduce sand to the whole littoral cell.”

The Oceanside littoral cell extends from Dana Point to La Jolla, according to Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The entire cell shares sand carried by ocean currents, tides and wave patterns.

Oceanside’s beach erosion increased after the construction of the Camp Pendleton boat basin in 1942 and the city’s harbor in 1963, which together created an obstacle to southward sand migration. The two facilities share an entrance, which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredges annually to keep it open for navigation, and the sand is piped onto nearby beaches.

Beaches south of the city’s pier get little of the harbor’s dredged sand and have eroded to cobblestones and rocks. The first phase of the sand project recommended a system of groins, which are walls of boulders extending into the ocean, to retain the sand in those areas.

Also, studies showed that sand dredged from the harbor is relatively fine-grained, making it easily washed away by waves and high tides. City officials hope to find a source of larger-grained sand, perhaps in the ocean just past the surf line, that will last longer on the beaches.

Groins, jetties and artificial reefs may help preserve the coastline, but environmentalists see their down side.

The California Coastal Commission and nonprofits such as the Surfrider Foundation oppose the devices, saying they contribute to erosion and cause more harm than good.

“We certainly empathize with the people of Oceanside who want sand back on their beaches,” Surfrider said in a statement posted last year on its website. “However, Surfrider is opposed to groins due to the detrimental effect they have on surrounding beaches.

“Groins in Oceanside would likely create a domino effect of additional coastal armoring down the coast; this would be a death blow to what remains of San Diego County’s natural coastline,” Surfrider said.

Oceanside residents in support of the idea have formed a group called Save Oceanside Sand.

“Save Oceanside Sand applauds the City of Oceanside’s bold and continued efforts on a path to return sand to our beaches with a plan of sand nourishment and retention,” said Bob Ashton, the group’s president and CEO, in a written statement issued Friday.

“The phase 2 approach … is a well thought out plan that once executed will bring back our beaches and re-establish resilience on our shores,” Ashton said.

The contract is with the Long Beach consulting firm GHD Inc., which also did the first phase of the city’s sand nourishment and retention pilot project.

Tasks in the second phase include more community outreach, monitoring beach conditions, further engineering, analysis and design for the proposed structures, along with obtaining environmental compliance and permits.

GHD also would seek entries for a competition to select a preferred design for the proposed sand retention system. The consulting firm then would prepare an environmental impact report for the chosen design.

The consultant’s work also will include looking at the possibility of finding a consistent source of sand to supply the retention system. That sand could come from the wide Camp Pendleton beaches just north of the harbor, where sand is stopped by the harbor jetty, or from deposits offshore anywhere between the Oceanside harbor and the Carlsbad border.

Construction of any sand replenishment and retention system has been estimated to cost $50 million or more. It would require the approval of numerous local, state and federal agencies including the California Coastal Commission, which has not approved a new groin project in more than 20 years.

Oceanside built an experimental year-round sand bypass system in the late 1980s for about $12 million that took sand from the harbor and deposited it on beaches. Plagued by mechanical and financial difficulties, the system was discontinued in the early 1990s.