Surfrider Foundation says fight to sink breakwater isn’t over

Despite a significant setback recently, a chairman for the Long Beach chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, which has long advocated tearing down the city’s breakwater, says the organization is still hopeful the wave-blocking behemoth will one day be removed.

In November, after more than a decade of anticipation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released the results of a study to determine whether parts of Long Beach’s 2.2-mile breakwater could be torn down to bring waves back to the coast.

The study suggested a tentative plan to restore parts of the coastline, but it all but sunk plans to remove the breakwater, concluding that any changes were too costly and could result in significant impacts to U.S. Naval operations in Seal Beach, the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, the oil islands, the city’s Carnival Cruise terminal, Shoreline Marina, the Peninsula and other stakeholders.

Overall, the study found that plans to notch the breakwater to restore waves could cost nearly $1 billion.

The news was a major disappointment for the Surfrider Foundation, a San Clemente-based nonprofit focused on water quality and beach access.

But in a meeting Wednesday at Long Beach Beer Lab, Seamus Innes, chair of the Long Beach chapter, said the organization is looking into possible legal challenges to the Army Corps’ study.

In one example, Innes said the nonprofit has concerns over the Army Corps’ proposal for an open-ocean ecosystem restoration project rather than changing the breakwater.

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The 2.2-mile breakwater, built by the U.S. Navy in the 1940s, will stay. File photo.

The $141 million “Reef Restoration Plan,” which would be the first of its kind for the agency, would include adding rocky reefs, kelp reefs and eelgrass to improve water quality and habitat biodiversity.

Innes said the proposal is not a restoration but more of an “enhancement” since rocky reefs and kelp beds did not historically exist on that stretch of coastline. Innes said the Army Corps is not sanctioned to do enhancement projects, only restorations.

“In the past, before development, there was wetlands and wave-driven sandy bottom habitat, and we know that kelp and rocky reefs never existed in that area,” he said. “So they’re calling it an ecosystem restoration when really it’s an ecosystem enhancement.”

While wetlands and reef restoration may somewhat improve water quality, Innes said, removing the breakwater and restoring waves would be the ultimate remedy.

The city in 2018, in partnership with the Army Corps, unveiled six possible options to improve the ecosystem along the coast, of which two included notching parts of the breakwater. The study ultimately found that the two breakwater notching projects would cost $993 million or $670 million, respectively.

The Army Corps had originally identified three draft alternative plans that did not include any changes to the breakwater, but the breakwater options were later added at the city’s urging.

One major hurdle to removing the breakwater is military operations.

The study noted that any changes to the breakwater could have an impact on national security because the Navy operates an explosives anchorage used for transfer of ammunition inside the breakwater near Seal Beach.

Innes said convincing the Navy to relocate is a huge challenge, but the effort could get momentum from local politicians.

“We have to work to get our politicians to take action,” he said.

The Army Corps draft study is available for public comment through Jan. 27. The draft proposal will go before the City Council for approval later this year after the public comment period.

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Kelly Puente is a general assignment and special projects reporter at the Long Beach Post. Her prolific reporting has taken her all over Southern California—even to the small Catalina Island town of Two Harbors. She is a Tiki mug collector and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in public policy and administration at Cal State Long Beach. Reach her at [email protected].
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