Army Corps takes next step toward San Pedro Bay reefs, kelp beds

Alamitos Bay YC’s “Chance V” with Helmsman Kevin McCarthy in the center of the frame during the 2019 Viper 640 Worlds taking place in San Pedro Bay. (Courtesy Sharon Green/Ultimate Sailing)

Posted on January 14, 2021

Army Corps of Engineers officials will meet with members of the Long Beach Boat Owners Association and other stakeholders next week to talk about a plan to add rocky reefs and kelp beds along the Long Beach shore.

The proposal, called the San Pedro Bay Ecosystem Restoration Plan, is meant to improve the ecosystem and slow beach erosion. The plan stems from a November 2019 report from the Army Corps of Engineers about how to improve marine habitat in east San Pedro Bay. In that report, the Army Corps rejected the idea of eliminating or altering the breakwater — something many advocates have urged for years as a way to bring waves back to the placid Long Beach waterfront and improve water quality — but instead pitched the reefs and kelp beds as a possible alternative.

Under that proposal, which the California Coastal Commission reviewed last month, a series of small reefs would go in front of the beach from Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier to the end of the peninsula and the jetty that creates the entrance to Alamitos Bay. It would also add two larger offshore rocky reefs just southwest of the Alamitos Bay entrance, and a series of kelp beds farther out from the entrance.

Any project, though, is likely a ways off. For one, the proposal is a draft and could have further changes, including during the engineering phase, which comes after the study phase, said Eileen Takata, lead planner on the project for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District. Second, it’s unclear where the money would come from; the project, according to the draft report, would cost an estimated $161 million.

Still, the Army Corps wants to hear from stakeholders, which is the purpose of its virtual meeting, set for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 19.

“The purpose of the upcoming boating and navigation stakeholder workshop is to discuss” the plan, Takata said in an email, “its constraints and necessary ecological designs and functions, and to discuss the boating communities’ concerns.”

Based on comments and emails to the Coastal Commission, boat owners have some issues with the proposal: The kelp beds in particular, they say, would interfere with both sailboat racing and recreational boaters.

“The Corps proposed creating reef structures by dumping rock in the bay, creating eel grass beds, and hold-fast points for what they hope would be large kelp beds,” Dave Booker, a member of the Boat Owners Association, said in an email. “But the proposed placement of these present loss of use for some area, and new risks to boaters entering and leaving Alamitos Bay.”

Potential controversy, of course, wouldn’t be much of a surprise.

The breakwater, a 2.5-mile long structure built about 2.5 miles off Long Beach’s shore, has been a touchy subject with local surfers for more than 20 years.

It was built in the 1940s to protect the fleet for a Navy base and shipyard, which shuttered in the 1990s.

In 1998, the Long Beach chapter of the Surfrider Foundation was formed with the express intent of eliminating or altering the breakwater to bring waves back to the city.

The Army Corps and Long Beach have conducted several preliminary studies, with one by the latter saying waves would improve the water quality and bring up to $52 million annually in local spending. But the breakwater belongs to the Army Corps and a feasibility study it conducted in the early 2000s said the cost would be prohibitive.

A more in-depth study followed, which culminated in the Army Corps’ report shunning changes to the breakwater and suggesting the reef-restoration plan.

Before that proposal can become a reality, much more work must be done. The Army Corps, for example, must still finalize the conceptual design for its recommended plan, which would go in a final report on improving the San Pedro Bay, Tanaka said. That is expected to happen this year, Takata said.

The Army Corps must also finish an engineering and design phase.

Source: presstelegram