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Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2007 | Protecting the beach in San Diego County is tricky. No one, except beachfront property owners, likes sea walls. Sand replenishment projects can ruin surf breaks and destroy fishing grounds (especially those of San Diego’s hardworking lobstermen).

Ultimately, with global warming and forecasted sea-level rise, we are better off implementing a policy of coastal retreat instead of subsidizing beach protection programs that only serve to protect the property values of beachfront property owners.

Unfortunately Imperial Beach has not figured this out. The majority of the intense political battles in my blue-collar and quirky hometown have involved efforts in one way or another to fortify the beachfront.

Meanwhile, a series of inept and incompetent city fathers, including Brian Bilbray, ignored the rest of the city (Brian’s biggest accomplishment while mayor, was changing the name of Coronado Avenue to Imperial Beach Boulevard).

What most bureaucrats do not understand is that cycle of winter swells, loss of sand, and the rebuilding of the beach in the summer is a natural process. For Imperial Beach, the damming up the Tijuana River in the 1930s and the development of our beachfront disturbed the natural process of sand replenishment. To combat man-made beach erosion, over the past 40 years, the city of Imperial Beach has spent millions of dollars on a series of flawed and badly executed projects. The last beach replenishment effort in 2004 deposited garbage, rocks and sediment from San Diego Bay on our beaches and wiped out much of our surf for close to a year (except for creating a reef local surfers called “Toxics” exactly at the spot the debris was dumped).

Despite this dismal record in Imperial Beach, the City Council (who should know better) have decided to steamroll ahead with plans for a $14 million U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project to place massive amounts of sand on our beaches (it would only take one storm to wash the sand into oblivion).

This proposed sand project is a classic U.S. Army Corps pork barrel project (remember this is the agency that failed to protect New Orleans), and a massive subsidy for Imperial Beach’s beachfront property owners who will have their multi-million dollar homes protected from storm damage free of charge. In Florida, beachfront property owners are required to pay for sand deposited in front of their homes.

The city of Imperial Beach should immediately create a sand assessment district so that beachfront property owners pay for their fair share of the sand project including lobbying and staff costs.

What is of most concern to local surfers and beachgoers alike is that project sand will be obtained from a site adjacent to a pipe just north of the U.S.-Mexico border that discharges Tijuana’s toxic sewage into the ocean. Even though the water discharged from this outfall pipe does not meet U.S Clean Water Act standards, the city of Imperial Beach believes that placing the potentially polluted sand from this sewage pipe on our beach for our children to play in is OK. Other sand-borrow sites are considered too costly. The placement of massive amounts of toxic sand on the beach will also have a devastating impact on surfing and fishing along our shoreline.

Hopefully, Jim Janney, Imperial Beach’s new mayor will work with the newly formed Imperial Beach Waterman’s Council to make sure that if the project does go forward, the city should work with the local stakeholders to make sure that we can carry out the project without destroying surfing and fishing in Imperial Beach. Most importantly we should make sure that this project does not endanger the health and safety of our children by putting them at risk from placing sand on the beach obtained from a pipe that discharges Tijuana’s foulest industrial waste into the ocean.

Serge Dedina works with the environmental activist group Wildcoast. You can contact him at sededina@wildcoast.net. Or, send a letter to the editor.

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