The first community scoping meeting regarding the East San Pedro Bay Ecosystem Restoration feasibility study packed the Bixby Park Community Center Thursday afternoon as residents came to learn about the aim of the study that may modify the breakwater currently protecting the Long Beach shoreline.
The workshop, headed by United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Watershed Program Manager Eileen Takata, laid out the goals, parameters and constraints of the study and briefly broke down the timeline in which each portion is expected to be completed. The three-year, $3 million study should actually take shape quicker than most anticipate, Takata said, with the general direction of the plan being unveiled around July of 2017.
“Most of the work is done within the first year and a half so we will actually have what we call a 'tentatively selected plan' in about a year and a half from now,” Takata said.
The goal of the historic study, at least from the USACE standpoint, is to estimate the National Ecosystem Restoration (NER) benefits of modifying or removing portions of the breakwater that have effectively stopped most wave activity off the coast of Long Beach since its installation in the 1940s.
An agreement was officially inked in January by Mayor Robert Garcia, who had pushed for a study of the breakwater to be carried out since his time as a city council member. The study seeks to restore habitats and marine-life populations through improving the health of the bay but also has potential economic drivers with increased wave activity bringing visitors back to the Long Beach shore.
“I believe that getting the science and the data will allow us to look at what the possibilities are,” Garcia said at a January press conference where he signed the study agreement into action. “Obviously, when you look out on this coastline, the fact that we have what is probably the largest breakwater, certainly on the West Coast, but possibly in the entire United States has had an impact on our community. It’s changed our coast, it’s changed the beach, it’s changed the way we interact with the water.”
The restoration goals of the Corps range from improving or resuscitating degraded habitats and ecosystems below the waterline in the bay by possibly augmenting the current structure of the breakwater.
The increased tidal flow could help improve the cleanliness of the water inside the project area by allowing the natural tidal activity to cycle out some of the waste brought down stream by the Los Angeles River. Since the breakwater’s installation, much of that waste has been trapped in the project area severely effecting kelp, wetlands and other aquatic ecosystems.
“The study’s goal is to restore and improve aquatic ecosystem structure and function for increased habitat biodiversity within the San Pedro Bay,” Takata said. “That is what we’re trying to achieve here.”
However, the study will balance the environmental needs with mitigating factors to ensure that existing infrastructure like the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles as well as marinas and coastal residencies aren’t negatively impacted by any decision on the breakwater.
Concerns over what might happen if the breakwater were to be taken down, either partially or entirely, were the focus of the public’s comments, with many asking the USACE to include their fears in the study’s scope.
Linda McCullough, who was at the meeting representing a home owners' association on the peninsula, said her husband and herself had lived in the area since before the breakwater was constructed, noting that the peninsula is physically much more different now because of the rate of erosion over the years. She expressed the cleanliness issue brought about by the upstream pollution of the LA River, but like most, said that a balance needed to be struck between residences and the beach.
“I think it’s going to be a huge challenge to be able to make improvements and not jeopardize people’s homes,” McCullough said. “We want our homes but we also want the environment.”
John Kindred, an self-described activist spoke to the crowd holding a microphone in one hand and his newborn child with the other. He too addressed the trash issue, noting that it would be great to eliminate some of the waste that had accumulated over the decades in the bay, but questioned whether the city would be any better than the polluters upstream if it allowed it to be washed out to sea to join the ever growing Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch.
“I’m not for the breakwater coming down or staying up but what I am for is if we’re going to it, let’s do it the right way, whatever we do,” Kindred said. “Our children and their children are going to pay for it and we know that politics always plays into it and we always pass it on to the next generation.”
Eduardo De Mesa, chief of the USACE planning division, said that the concerns voiced by the crowd will be noted and may even be included within its study had they not already been accounted for. He stepped in occasionally to diffuse some of the residents’ concerns and to temper others’ hopes of reliving the past. The waterfront of Long Beach past has come and gone, he noted, adding that the past is gone and the project’s design is to see what can be done about the present.
“What we need to do is understand what used to be there, what we have now,” De Mesa said. “We have heard the perceived problems in the area, what we need to do as part of our study is validate what the problems are, develop solutions that will meet what is reasonably acceptable to the federal government, what is desired by the city and our local sponsors and then we marry up those objectives and select what would be the most reasonable recommendation for the presentation.”
The project area spans from the Port of Long Beach (POLB) in the north and stretches south to Seal Beach with the broader study area including Palos Verdes and going further down the shoreline to Huntington Beach. However, the only modifications that might take place will only exist inside the project area.
The constraints placed on the study include, but are not limited to, making sure that maritime activity capacity in the project area is not reduced, shoreline erosion and wave related damage will not increase as a result of the study and that any steps taken will not negatively impact the area’s flood risk management operations.
Sea level rise must also be incorporated into any model that’s possibly adopted. Already models of rising tide levels due to polar ice caps melting have caused alarm for those living in coastal regions as their properties could be the first effected by swelling ocean levels. A handful of people in attendance asked the USACE how this would be accounted for and were assured that the group was studying three different sea level rise analysis as part of its work.
Once the USACE is able to fine tune its study and identify the best possible path forward for any kind modifications to the breakwater it will present those plans to the public. After public review, it will go back for additional review to address any lingering issues before any designs are produced ahead of the chief’s report scheduled to close out the study window in January 2019.
De Mesa said that the flexibility of the USACE to identify things that may even be outside of the confines of the Corps will allow it to at least point the city in a direction that might suit its needs even if those needs are out of the USACE jurisdiction. But he expects that the group will be able to identify some kind of plan that will work for both the city, the Corps and the stakeholders that any action might effect.
“There are many ways to look at feasibility,” De Mesa said. “There are the environmental feasibility, economic feasibility, social feasibility, so throughout that process the local partner in the program can make a decision that the no action solution might be the best solution. Or they may be solutions that don’t fit within the corps of engineers’ authority but the could be someone else that could come in and help.”
The next public meeting is scheduled for April 18 at the Seaport Marina Hotel from 3:30PM-6:30PM. It will be a participatory workshop and requires an RSVP.