By Nick Diamantides
Imagine waves rising as high as six feet and water so clean you can see the ocean floor at four feet deep. Imagine surfers and tourists flocking to Long Beach to enjoy the pleasures on an almost pristine coast. As far-fetched as that might sound today, those scenes could be reality for future generations.
About 100 people, including several local, state and federal government officials, gathered at Bluff Park Tuesday morning to celebrate the beginning of a study that could help restore the Long Beach shoreline to much of its original splendor. The audience attended to witness the signing of the agreement between the City of Long Beach and the US Army Corps of Engineers to work together on the second phase of a study to determine the feasibility of reconfiguring the Long Beach breakwater and taking other measures to restore the ecosystem of the East San Pedro Bay, which encompasses the Long Beach shoreline.
According to Tom Modica, director of government affairs for the City, the study will cost about $8.3 million and take four years to complete, and the City and the federal government will share the study’s cost equally.
“Today we celebrate another milestone as we continue to improve the water quality along the coast of Long Beach and throughout all of the beautiful bay,” said Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster, and he thanked Long Beach City Councilmembers Patrick O’ Donnell and Rae Gabelich for asking the Council to approve the agreement. Foster stressed that the study is going to take several years to conduct and no actions will be taken until after the study has been completed.
The mayor also explained that once the Army Corps receives federal funds, then scientists, researchers, city staff, Army Corps staff and experts in the area will take an in-depth look at the bay with the following objectives in mind: restoring the marine ecosystem, improving recreational water quality, increasing recreational activity along the shoreline, and preserving the infrastructure and properties along the bay.
“When the study receives funds to proceed, we will be hosting several public outreach meetings,” Foster said. “This will be an open, transparent process, and we hope the community actively becomes engaged and joins us in this study.”
After Foster’s comments, Colonel Mark Toy spoke. Toy became commander of the Army Corps of Engineers’ Los Angeles District on July 1, but he had been briefed on issues pertaining to the breakwater and the upcoming study even before assuming command.
“The signing ceremony provides an opportunity for the leadership here in the Corps and in the City of Long Beach to publicly acknowledge our partnership agreement and to start the feasibility study,” he said. “We believe that every study, permit, and project that we do in the LA District is done with the goal of taking care of people. That is our goal with the East San Pedro Bay Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study.”
Toy noted that he had recently taken a boat tour of the bay to help him understand more about the challenges that would be involved in a restoration project. “The study is going to evaluate a multitude of alternatives to improve the ecosystem as a whole,” he said. “Our study will investigate opportunities to provide ecosystem restoration, water quality and recreation improvements to the near-shore area of the city of Long Beach.”
Echoing Foster, Toy stressed that while scientists and engineers consider the possibility of removing all or part of the breakwater, keeping the shoreline protected will be a very important aspect of the study. “It will seek to protect the homes of the people who reside along its shore,” he said. “It will also strive to allow the city’s great maritime industry to continue to function profitably.”
After the signing ceremony, Seamus Innes, secretary of the Long Beach Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, said he welcomed the study and hoped it would be a step toward restoring the shoreline to what it once was. “We would like the breakwater sunk so we could have waves back in Long Beach so people can go to the beach and enjoy themselves,” he said. He added, however, that his organization also supports an alternative that would prevent shoreline erosion and allow the port to continue its profitable operations.
Another member of Surfrider, Robert Palmer, explained that many people do not realize how wonderful the Long Beach shoreline was before the breakwater was built. “In 1938, the very first international surfing contest was held right here in Long Beach,” he said. “In those days, the Los Angeles River would deposit sediment on the ocean floor creating a shallow shelf. When the waves came over that, they really came up and some of them were six feet tall.”
In spite of Foster’s and Toy’s assurances about protecting shoreline properties, Alamitos Peninsula residents Penny and Bill Brush are adamantly opposed to any breakwater modifications that would increase the size of waves along the Long Beach shoreline. The Brushes attended the Bluff Park ceremony carrying signs saying “Save the Breakwater.”
“If there was extensive wave action, that would put us back to where we were in the 1930s,” she said. “There would be a great peril to property the entire length of the peninsula and downtown.”
Signal Hill Vice Mayor Larry Forester was also at the signing ceremony. “This ecosystem study is very important to all the cities that have storm watergoing into the LA River,” he said. “It’s going to not only look at the bay, but all the water that is going into the bay. It will help us decide what we can do to work with Long Beach to make the ecosystem better.”
Modica noted that federal funding for the study is on hold until Congress decides what to do with the federal budget. “At this point, no one knows when the study will begin,” he said.