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Army Corps of Engineers wants San Clemente to pay $2.6 million more for stalled sand project

The US Army Corps of Engineers wants San Clemente to pay an additional $2.6 million to for a troubled sand replenishment project after rocks were hauled in, rather than the expected sand.

Posted on April 1, 2024

The city of San Clemente is being asked to contribute $2.6 million toward the cost of resuming a project to add sand to the beach around the pier area that was halted after a dredger hired by the US Army Corps of Engineers pumped out more rocky material than expected.

City and congressional leaders are asking the Army Corps to waive the additional cost, arguing the original borrow site off Oceanside was studied and selected by the federal agency and it hired the dredging company, Manson Construction, to do the work.

“We have a contract and agreement with the Army Corps, but they are saying they are having to pay more, so they want us to cover the cost,” Mayor Victor Cabral said. “They haven’t delivered one cubic yard of sand to us to date. It’s a big concern for us.”

Shortly after the replenishment project got underway in January, officials and residents became concerned when rocks and cobble, not fluffy sand, were being pumped on shore. City officials sent a letter to the Army Corps asking it to halt the project until a better sand source was found.

The proposal is now to pull sand from offshore of Surfside Beach in north Orange County for delivery to the San Clemente beach.

It will cost $7.7 million to complete the San Clemente project because of the additional distance to a new borrow site and there are still the costs incurred from the first part of the project, Army Corps of Engineers spokesperson Dena O’Dell said in an email.

The agreement previously reached is for the federal government to pay 65% of the project’s costs and for 35% to come from non-federal sources, making San Clemente’s portion of the additional bill $2.6 million, city officials said.

The project, which took more than two decades to get through the extensive approval, permitting and federal funding process, would now cost a total of $23.7 million.

Much of San Clemente’s portion already paid – about $5 million – came from a grant from the state’s Department of Boating and Waterways, said Cabral, who said the city wouldn’t be able to pay the $2.6 million.

“We’re negotiating with them right now,” he said. “We’re trying to work out something amicably, and we hope we’ll be able to do so.”

Army Corps Project Manager Doland Cheung said the city has been a partner throughout the process and has provided input for everything from feasibility to design, final construction plans and picking the borrow site.

“They should be well aware, if they sign a partnership agreement, where each of the partners bears risk,” he said. “Our project does include risk involved. The borrow area condition was considered as part of the risk. From that perspective, if we incur difficulties and we have to pivot, and that activity provides a cost increase, each partner is responsible.”

The Army Corps, too, has to figure out how to fund the federal portion of the cost increase and has asked U.S. Rep. Mike Levin (CA-49) for assistance. It is also looking at different financing options to try and decrease the burden on the city, Cheung said.

And, there could be ways the city can provide “in-kind services,” such as future surveying, Cheung said.

The cost increase came from time associated with Manson’s effort to dredge the original pit, as well as the added distance to the new site. Oceanside is 18 miles away, while Surfside is 30 miles – the main driver of the added costs, he said.

And he noted the cost increase is just an estimate until a new proposal is received from the contractor.

“This one is hard to estimate, because the location is so far,” he said.

The project still needs to get a permit from  the California State Lands Commission to resume, and the timing has to line up with the dredger finishing a project in Encinitas, but the hope is that it can move forward by the end of April, Cheung said.

While the additional cost may seem like a lot of money for the city, much of the original funding for the city’s portion came from a state grant, so it has only had to pay about $650,000 in costs, Cheung noted.

Even with the added expense, the city is only footing 15% of the costs, he said. “Either way you look at it, I think they are getting quite a good deal, in terms of the value they are getting for renourishment of the beach.”

Levin and Senators Alex Padilla (D-CA) and Laphonza Butler (D-CA) sent a letter to Army Corps of Engineers leaders to express their concerns over potential financial burdens and extra costs to San Clemente, calling the substantial increase in the city’s fiscal obligation “objectionable.”

“As you know, this project has encountered major obstacles involving the sourcing of appropriate beach-quality sand from the originally identified offshore borrow site,” they said. The city “should not be liable for the additional costs stemming from the unsuccessful attempts to utilize the original borrow site.”

Manson Construction is based out of Seattle and touts bringing “innovative solutions and engineering expertise” for high-profile infrastructure and energy projects. Project manager Jim McNally did not respond to a call for comment.

The sand replenishment project began in late December, but had some immediate delays when the dredger had mechanical issues and winter storms caused even more complications.

When the dredger resumed work in January, officials and residents became quickly concerned when more rocks were deposited on the shore than the expected sand.

After the city asked that the project be paused to see why more sand was not being produced from the borrow site, the dredger went on to San Diego for two previously scheduled replenishment projects serving Solana Beach and Encinitas. It was expected to come back to San Clemente by the end of April to finish bringing 251,000 cubic yards of sand to the beach from the new borrow site.

But with the new price tag, the project’s status is unclear.

Cabral noted in a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers that the project has obvious recreational benefits, but also protects critical infrastructure, including a coastal rail line and vital water and sewer facilities.

He appreciated the Army Corps’ work to collaborate with multiple agencies and to get through red tape to get the go-ahead for the project, he said, but the additional cost  “seems out of line given that, to date, no sand has been delivered to the beach.”


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