Thursday, July 19 , 2018, 2:29 pm | Fair 76º


Local News

Commission Denies County’s Pilings Plan for Goleta Beach

The California Coastal Commission instead favors considering an alternative solution to erosion

Citing reluctance to issue a permit for what it called an “experimental” solution to the problem of erosion at Goleta Beach, the California Coastal Commission on Wednesday denied Santa Barbara County its plans for permeable pilings at the Goleta Pier.

“The question is not whether the park should be saved,” Commissioner Sara Wan said. “It’s how.”

With more than a million visitors a year from near and far, Goleta Beach Park is one of the most popular attractions of the South Coast. Recent bouts of major erosion have threatened the location to the point where the county has had emergency rock revetments put in place. It was a measure intended to last as long as it took to come up with a better solution, one that didn’t have the impacts of coastal armoring.

On Wednesday, Santa Barbara County officials presented what they believed to be a viable alternative to coastal armoring: a series of pilings that would extend from the pier, with the idea that the semipermeable structure would trap enough of the circulating sand to prevent further erosion. The plan was years in the process, formulated after a working group formed to address the erosion arrived at an impasse between using hard structures and managed retreat, where utilities and structures would be moved back as the ocean eroded into the shore.

“Because of the pattern of sand transport in the area — we believe it’s very predictable — we believe the results could be predicted with a high probability of success,” said Chris Webb, representing Moffatt and Nichol, designer of the permeable pilings solution. The groin created by the pilings would be prefilled with sand, and once the structure had trapped enough sand as it circulated along the shore, the excess would flow down to other beaches along the way, he said, addressing concerns that the structure could deprive down-coast beaches of sand that they need.

Skepticism about the plan came from representatives of the Environmental Defense Center and the Surfrider Foundation, who presented their own alternative.

“Even with proposed special conditions, the proposed groin will result in significant down-coast beach erosion,” the EDC’s Brian Trautwein said.

The environmental groups presented a plan to reconfigure the beach, to allow for what they say is a natural periodic cycle of erosion and accretion of the shore, without losing the utilities and structures in the area. The groups also contended that the reconfiguration would cost less than the permeable piles plan.

Representatives from the Goleta Water District and Southern California Gas also were on hand to weigh in on the state of the beach, and whether the rock walls in place should be removed at all.

“Any wave action that damages the upcoast sections of that park would most likely uncover our facility and other utilities, which are contained in that section of the park,” said Eric Ford, the GWD’s interim general manager.

Ultimately, the skepticism of the permeable piles project won out, with the commissioners favoring a deeper look into a managed retreat solution, or a better alternative to the piles, resulting in a 9-1 vote to deny the county’s application.

“To be pithy for a second, I don’t think we should think with our groins in this case,” Commissioner Ross Mirkarimi said. “In my opinion, if there’s a solid candidate for managed retreat, it’s this program.”

Noozhawk staff writer Sonia Fernandez can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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