Posted on December 20, 2023
San Clemente’s beach building is officially underway.
Officials gathered on Monday, Dec. 18, to mark the start of the long-awaited San Clemente Shoreline Sand Replenishment Project, with heavy equipment in the backdrop shifting sand to make way for the dredged sediment pulled from the ocean floor in Oceanside.
Beachgoers will notice a large barge off the coast through January, with heavy machinery, large piping and orange safety netting on the sand for the project.
A dredger was having a piece fixed before it was expected to haul its first load of sand ashore later in the day Monday, the start of the $14-million project that will eventually add a 50-foot-wide beach between T-Street and Linda Lane on the north and south sides of the town’s iconic pier.
Congressman Mike Levin, among the many dignitaries at the groundbreaking ceremony, said the project that is adding about 251,000 cubic yards of sand isn’t just as one-time deal, but a 50-year commitment by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to repeat the replenishment every five years.
San Clemente Mayor Victor Cabral noted the project has been 20 years in the making, saying it was only possible because of the collaboration between federal, state, county and local partners.
“Today it’s important to recognize all community leaders who had the vision and the courage to start this project 20 years ago,” he said. “The project will protect critical shoreline infrastructure, including rail line and businesses, as well as preserve access to our beaches.”
The sand piped in restores the natural nourishment missing because of human impacts such as development, he said, and is a way to prepare for future impacts of climate change.
“We’re helping Mother Nature,” he said.
Councilmember Chris Duncan, who helped push to get the sand project underway in his last year as the town’s mayor, said the project is a “dream come true,” a chance to preserve San Clemente’s coast for future generations.
“It takes so long and there’s so much hard work, you’re not even sure it’s eventually going to happen,” he said. “It shows that when you work collaboratively on something that the entire community can get behind, you can make anything happen.”
UC Irvine civil and environmental engineering professor Brett Sanders said the project is the start of a commitment to help a coastline that has suffered in recent years.
“We have such a heightened state of awareness today with sea level rise and coastal impacts that these coastal issues are going to be the priority,” he said.
Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley joked that all she wants for Christmas is new sand.
Foley helped organize a smaller replenishment project at nearby Capistrano Beach using excess sand in the Santa Ana River and also recently attended the launch of a larger, $23 million replenishment project in the Surfside-Sunset Beach area north of Huntington Beach, where 1.1 million cubic yards of dredged sand will be put on the beach.
Beaches need to be treated like roads and other public works infrastructures that need consistent maintenance, Foley said.
Manson Construction Chief Operating Officer Jim McNally talked Monday about the logistics of the San Clemente project, where a dredger will travel daily from Oceanside to pipe in sand. The beach directly around the pipe – which will move along the shore as the project advances – will be closed to the public.
While water quality isn’t expected to be impacted, the ocean could have a murky appearance much like it does during storm surges, he said. The Army Corps will be taking water quality samples regularly during the project.
The dredger can hold about 3,000 cubic yards of sand and can make three trips a day.
The actually dredging can happen 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, but sand moving can only occur from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. along the shoreline.
The project crew are accustom to rainy conditions, McNally said, however the project could be paused during a storm if waves make it too difficult for the ship to connect to the pipe.
While some of the new sand is expected to move further south, with some ending up where an entire beach near Cotton’s Point has disappeared in recent years, the city is exploring other ways to supplement its quickly disappearing sand supply, officials said.
Councilmember Steve Knoblock said the city is looking at “free enterprise” solutions that would take less time and be less costly than the federal-led projects.
The city is exploring whether borrow sites exist closer to San Clemente’s shoreline for smaller, regular replenishment projects for other areas of the coast that are also impacted by severe erosion but are not within the latest project’s scope, he said. “I’m sure we’ll be considering that in the future.”