Proponents of bringing waves back to the shores of Long Beach could have a new glimmer of hope as the city and the United States Army Corps of Engineers are now working on a potential expansion of the breakwater study that was initiated three years ago.
The Army Corps gave the green light for the study of the breakwater in November 2015 and the study was initiated in January 2016 after it was signed into action. The $3 million study was split between the city and the Army Corps and was aimed at potentially finding a way to reconfigure or remove parts of the breakwater to improve the ecosystems and water quality off the city’s shoreline.
The city revealed six options that had been developed in the process of the current breakwater study in September 2018. Four of the options included no alterations to the breakwater but two did, including one that proposed the removal of 24 acres of existing breakwater just off the coast of the Peninsula in southeast Long Beach.
It was the most costly and labor intensive option but also the least likely since it would impact the oil islands, Belmont Pier and Naval activities in neighboring Seal Beach.
The second option that would alter the breakwater was a “notching” alternative that could punch two 1,000-foot holes in the breakwater but the increased wave activity was projected to have impacts on Pier J at the port and the Carnival Cruise Terminal.
Diana Tang, manager of government affairs for Long Beach, said that the city is currently looking at potentially expanding the scope of the study to develop other alternatives to the six that were released last year.
However, doing so will require the city to strike a delicate balance that includes protecting the economic interests of the Port of Long Beach to the west and a naval weapons base and homes to the east in Seal Beach and improving the health of the ecosystems off the city’s coastline.
Tang said that if any portion of the breakwater could be augmented it would likely be toward the western end as the eastern side has already been determined to be “not viable.” Tang explained that the “explosives arc,” a structure that protects the inland docks from wave activity, cannot be compromised because it would negatively impact national security.
“It’s the only location in the Pacific Ocean where the Navy can transfer heavy munitions,” Tang said. “The direction that our beach faces with the help of the breakwater allows it to be calm enough for these transfers. Nothing that disrupts that can happen within that area.”
A memo the city manager’s office sent to the City Council and Mayor Robert Garcia said the city wants to further explore the “notching” option on the western portion of the breakwater beyond the Army Corps’ primary ecosystem restoration mission to include local benefits including the recreational value of city beaches. The city is requesting modeling from the Army Corps to better assess its options.
Tang said the city is focused on getting the best data together so it can make the best decision for the future of the breakwater adding that the health of the ecosystems and water quality remain as the priorities for the city. However, the city would also like to develop an option that could improve the value of its beaches, which could mean one that results in more waves that would draw in more tourists.
Unlike the initial study that saw the $3 million cost split between the city and the Army Corps, the city will be on the hook for the entire bill of any expanded scope of the project beyond what has already been completed. There has been no cost estimate for the potential expansion but Tang said it’s likely that funding would come out of the city’s Tidelands Fund.
Long Beach was once renowned for its waves before the breakwater was constructed in the 1940s, so much so that it was dubbed the “Waikiki of Southern California”. But since the breakwater was constructed the waves have stopped which has meant fewer tourists and less circulation of water in the bay.
The latter part has contributed to poor water quality in Long Beach beaches, especially after rainstorms. The Los Angeles River ends in Long Beach and brings with it debris and pollution from cities to the north which languishes off the city’s shoreline due to the lack of wave activity. One of the city’s beaches this year was named the fourth dirtiest beach in the state in an annual report that ranks California’s beaches on cleanliness.
What will ultimately happen with the breakwater remains unclear. The three-year mark of the study has already lapsed and a decision has yet to be made by local officials as the city seeks more time to develop more alternatives.
Tang said that there is no expected timeline for when the scope of the expanded study would be revealed and when that study could be completed. While the city explores its options all decisions have been put on hold for the project. Any significant increase in the cost of the project would have to ultimately be approved by the City Council.
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