Broad Beach sandbags a bust, some say

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Residents and surfers are blasting the use of sandbags used to stop the erosion of Broad Beach, saying they are counterproductive and environmentally destructive. City leaders and beach homeowners say the bags are the best option for temporarily protecting homes and septic tanks, and for stabilizing the beach, which studies indicate has been eroding since the late 1970s.

Ken Ehrlich, counsel for Trancas Property Owners Association, which represents Broad Beach homeowners, said Tuesday in a telephone interview that the homeowners have assembled a team of professionals, including oceanographers and coastal engineers, who have discussed the concepts of a long-term solution to the erosion of Broad Beach.

The proposed solution, which Ehrlich said will cost an estimated $15 million to $20 million that will be paid entirely by the homeowners, consists of an at-grade revetment, or barricade, made of boulders of different sizes, the largest ones closest to the ocean. The revetment, Ehrlich said, is not a wall or barrier, but more like a column of rocks that is buried in the sand and covered with natural flora and fauna.

California Coastal Commission engineers and the consultants for the Trancas Property Owners Association will meet next week to further discuss the solution.

After studies and reports are complete, an application to implement a long-term solution will be submitted to the city and the Coastal Commission for review.

Septic tanks or sand bags?

Residents since January have written letters and sent e-mails to The Malibu Times stating that the sandbags (which are made from either burlap or plastic) are posing threats to the environment and wildlife.

“Half of them [the sandbags] are plastic ones, which float out to sea, unravel, and endanger/kill creatures that eat them,” Beate Nilsen wrote. “It seems counterproductive, to say the least, to use something that will not stay in place to ‘protect’ structures or even land.”

Broad Beach resident Nick Rodionoff last week said he had spoken with surfers who told him they were entrapped by burlap that had come off sandbags along Broad Beach Road. “It posed a danger to surfers yesterday, and I have no idea where the burlap is now and what danger it may pose to the environment/wildlife,” Rodionoff wrote in an email to The Malibu Times.

Mayor Stern, who is also a Broad Beach resident, said in an interview last week the only thing protecting the beachfront homes are the sandbags, most of which are situated between septic tanks and the ocean. “Residents have their choice: septic tanks or burlap sacks,” Stern said. “Those who complain about burlap bags should pray that people put more in. The erosion was more serious this past week than I’ve ever seen it.”

“All of the Broad Beach homes have leach fields that must be protected for both public and environmental health,” an association board member said in an interview Friday.

The presence of sandbags in the ocean and in tide pools has made some question their efficacy. “We’ve been told sand bags are the best temporary solution confirmed by the California Coastal Commission and the city,” Ehrlich said.

Jack Ainsworth, deputy director of California Coastal Commission’s South Central Coast District Office, said sandbags could worsen erosion by causing waves to refract, or change direction, and deplete the beach of sand.

Thus, Ainsworth said, he disagrees with the placement of sandbags on the eastern end of Broad Beach where erosion is not severe.

“On the western end of Broad Beach the erosion is threatening the foundations and stability of homes,” Ainsworth said. “There was no doubt there had to be protection, so sandbags are the interim solution. On the other side of Broad Beach, you’ve got 40 to 50 feet of coastal dunes in front of the homes. There is no need to put sand bags there because the homes are not immediately threatened by erosion. Putting sandbags in places they don’t need to be exacerbates the erosion.”

Ehrlich said a sand retention plan has also been included in the long-term solution. The plan entails the construction of rock-made structures called “groins,” impermeable structures perpendicular to the shoreline that trap sand, and that have been implemented at other beaches such as Will Rogers State Beach. The “groins” look very similar to jetties, and are positioned in the ocean.

The groins would have to be approved by the Coastal Commission, which Ainsworth said is not likely.

“But we’re going to keep in mind all the different alternatives available,” Ainsworth said. “Groins may capture sand, but they starve the down coast beaches from sand. It’s a very complicated situation, plus their effects on habitats and marine life.”

Gary Griggs, a professor of earth and planetary science at UC Santa Cruz and director of the university’s Institute of Marine Sciences, explained the cause of Broad Beach’s narrowing trend (and that of many Southern California beaches) as a combination of recurring weather patterns and rising sea levels.

Griggs explained that beaches tend to lose sand and narrow during warmer phases of weather, which California has been experiencing since 1978. Griggs said Broad Beach started narrowing in the late ’70s, became exceedingly noticeable during the past four to six years and has worsened significantly over the last year or so.

The rapid exacerbation of the erosion has caused the city to issue emergency permits that allowed beachfront residents to place sandbags in front of their homes upward of the mean high tide line.