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Rock sea wall repairs approved for Strands Beach in Dana Point

At the beach beyond the coastal walkway in the foreground, a much larger replacement rock barrier has been approved for repairs below multi-million dollar homes in Dana Point at Strands Beach.

Posted on October 18, 2022

The county has gotten approval from the California Coastal Commission – after being denied in the past – to reinforce a rock sea wall at Strands Beach where an ancient landslide threatens bluff-top homes.

An estimated 1,000 tons of boulders will be used to fill the base of the cliffside in a project approved Thursday, Oct. 13, adding to the already-existing 5,000 tons of large rocks that form the quarter-mile-long revetment. The rock wall, which has been in place since the 1970s, secures the bluff below 60 or so homes in the Niguel Shores neighborhood.

The Coastal Commission denied the county’s requests to secure the site in 2020, and prior to that in 2012, with members voicing concerns the plan would result in a loss of public beach to benefit homeowners at taxpayer expense and the proposal lacked enough mitigation measures to make up for impacts to the public stretch of coastline.

The county is responsible for the security of the seawall following a deal inked in 1971 with the developer of the then-new neighborhood. A lawsuit by the Niguel Shores Community Association had resulted in a court-ordered settlement that required the county to maintain the base of the bluff.

In 1977, portions of the landslide reactivated and destabilized several of the vacant building pads. More work to secure the area took place in the early ’80s under an emergency coastal permit, and again in 1988 following severe El Niño storms that affected a nearby bluff slope and undermined the revetment, a report to the current Coastal Commission said.

In 1989, to settle litigation with the community association, the county agreed to maintain and repair the existing rock revetment and also accepted liability and responsibility for any damages to the property benefiting from the revetment.

The plan approved on Thursday uses smaller rocks than previously proposed and replaces an estimated 20% of the existing 5,000-ton revetment. The makeshift seawall is 13-feet tall, 30-feet wide and 1,250-feet long. The portion that will be removed and re-stacked stretches about 232 feet.

“Over time, the revetment has settled; importation of new rock will return the revetment to the previously approved revetment footprint,” staffers told commissioners.

The plan presented by OC Parks that gained unanimous commission approval also promises to repair and stabilize access ramps and stairs and requires the county to monitor the beach and sand levels for three years, as well as complete an alternative analysis for public access maintenance and enhancement in the future.

The project’s approval is just one of several examples of “hard armoring ” – using stacks of rock boulders – along Orange County shores as sand erosion, storm surges and looming sea level rise threaten the coastline, putting homes and infrastructure at risk.

But experts warn the use of hard armoring could make matters worse by changing wave action that could pull sand further offshore. But despite the Coastal Commission’s dislike for hard armoring, temporary emergency permits are often approved and rocks are rarely, if ever, removed.

The Coastal Commission in recent years has asked applicants to come up with alternative methods, such as sand replenishment or a “living shoreline” that mixes sand along with cobblestone and native plants that would anchor sand. The challenge with importing sand, however, is the long approval process and funding to regularly replenish the supply.

The county is trying to figure out the right answers just down the coast from Strands at Capistrano Beach, an area battered by strong storm surges in recent years as sand erosion continues to challenge decision-makers tasked with finding solutions. The beach was once home to volleyball courts, fire rings, palm trees, a basketball court and bathrooms – all of which have succumb to the sea.

Waves crash into boulders at Capistrano Beach Park in Dana Point, CA on Friday, December 4, 2020. Erosion took out part of the beach that held a sidewalk, restrooms and a basketball court. OC Parks needs an extension to finalize plans for a pilot program that would bring in a living shoreline made of sand dunes and cobblestone.

OC Parks is in the process of replacing tattered sand cubes at the down-coast end of Capistrano Beach with larger sandbags that each hold 4 cubic yards of sand, said OC Parks spokeswoman Marisa O’Neil.

The department is working with OC Public Works to source beach sand dredged from the Santa Ana River Outlet Maintenance Project to fill the bags, O’Neil updated in an email.

The large sand bags are being used in addition to rock boulders put in place as an emergency measure two years ago.

The Capistrano Beach parking lot has been closed to stage construction material, but parts of it are expected to reopen next week.


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