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Dredging OK’d for Surfers Beach in Pillar Point Harbor

Posted on September 11, 2023

A long-awaited pilot project aimed at addressing erosion issues at Surfers Beach at Pillar Point Harbor has received approval from the California Coastal Commission.

The approval for the Surfers Beach Pilot Sand Replenishment Project came at the commission’s Sept. 6 meeting and is aimed at addressing beach and bluff erosion around Surfers Beach that threaten its long-term use, along with improving surfing and boating conditions.

The San Mateo County Harbor District will manage the project that will dredge and relocate around 100,000 cubic yards of sand along the inside of the Pillar Point Harbor east breakaway near the public boat launch area to create an estimated 1,000-foot long section of beach shoreline in the Surfers Beach area, according to a California Coastal Commission staff report. The popular beach is known as a fun surfing area for beginners because it is near Highway 1 and is in a sheltered location. Surfers Beach has dealt with significant erosion over the decades, and a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report concluded the bluffs eroded around 1.64 feet per year between 1993 and 2012, according to a Harbor District report.

Areas like Highway 1, Miranda Road and other infrastructure have been threatened during storms, and erosion has led to shoreline area degradation and hazardous conditions for the California Coastal Trail. Harbor District General Manager Jim Pruett said the project will help address long-term erosion issues and improve surfing conditions by having a sandy area for surfers to reach instead of a rocky shore. It will also reduce the need for seawalls and improve beach and wildlife habitats.

“It’s fantastic news for us,” Pruett said of the project. “The Harbor District has been working very hard on this for years.”

Pruett said the first project step is to move eel grass beds in the area out to Mavericks Beach as part of a restoration program. Fish use eel grass as a protective habitat, and state environmental law requires the Harbor District to create new eel grass beds of around 8 acres within the harbor’s west basin to mitigate changes caused by the project. The phase will begin around May 2024. A timeline for the whole project has not been decided, although Pruett noted the project could take at least two years.

Pruett said it was illegal to bring sand into the beach area until a couple of years ago because it went against sanctuary rules until 2021, but dredged sand is now viewed as a natural resource to mitigate erosion effects, leading to the approval Sept. 6. The sand would be dredged and transported via a pipeline and spread over the beach area.

The pilot project will study the effectiveness of the new beach area to see if it can mitigate erosion and if there are any negative environmental impacts. The Harbor District has funding for the project and has been working on approval for over 10 years, Pruett said.

San Mateo County Supervisor Ray Mueller noted his district is seeing the effects of climate change and erosion near Highway 1 on the coast and especially in Pacifica, with each area requiring a different response to climate change.

“Replenishing the beach at Surfers Beach will create a natural barrier against damage coming in from sea-level rise and at the same time provides a functional beach,” Mueller said. “It’s a great project.”


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