Councilmember Patrick O’Donnell’s “Breakwater Awareness Month” wrapped up May 24 at Ecco’s Pizza with a meeting bringing the community up to speed on one of Long Beach’s hot topics — the breakwater.
The meeting began with Manager of Government Affairs Tom Modica’s history on Long Beach’s self-funded reconnaissance study. Monica Eichler, the coastal sections project manager of the Los Angeles district of the Army Corps of Engineers – who has jurisdiction over the breakwater – reviewed what would happen if Long Beach’s study produces enough federal interest for a further, more in-depth study (called a feasibility study).
When the floor opened for questions, Councilmember O’Donnell was the first to step up to the mike: “Where are we now?”
“Colonel Magness [commander of the Los Angeles district of the Army Corps] has signed off at the district level,” Eichler said.
Though nothing was confirmed, Eichler said “there’s a pretty good chance” that the Army Corps higher-ups will approve a feasibility study.
The Army Corps has been reviewing the reconnaissance study since February. Modica estimated a response from the Army Corps by mid-June.
According to Eichler, if the Army Corps determines federal interest and Long Beach decides to become a local sponsor, the feasibility study would take about four years to complete. Local sponsorship also means that Long Beach is responsible for half of the $8 million for the study, as well as appropriating the federal funds.
Community members at the meeting were concerned about the length of time as well as the price tag attached to the breakwater. The panel assured that the four years for the study is to ensure correct data and explore every possible, cost-effective solution.
“We’re not reaching into general funding,” Councilmember O’Donnell said. “There are a variety of places to go for the money.”
O’Donnell reassured the audience of his dedication to the issue.
“I believe there is something we can carve out here,” he said.
Breaking down the breakwater
Completed in 1949, the breakwater is federally owned and operated. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has final say over its modification or removal. In the years since the closure of the Long Beach Naval Complex in 1994, the public has pushed to reconfigure or completely remove the structure.
The Army Corps will decide if the results of a reconnaissance study generate enough federal interest. Enough federal interest means another phase of study called a feasibility study, which costs a lot more and takes a lot longer. Once this phase is complete, then comes the construction phase where designs are drawn and contracts are written and eventually, there is action.
Moffatt & Nichol, a local marine engineering firm, started the Breakwater Reconnaissance Study in August 2008 and completed it in July 2009 (the approximate time such a study lasts). Results are available at www.longbeach.gov/citymanager/ga/breakwater.
Essentially, they provided five alternative solutions. Each explores rearranging sections of the breakwater to create up to 300 acres of rocky, hard-bottom habitats and up to 500 acres of kelp reef habitats, however that solution alone – though the most cost-effective – would not improve water quality. Moffatt & Nichol also found that water quality could improve along the shoreline without changes to the breakwater by redirecting the mouth of the Los Angeles River.
Overall, the study concluded that complete removal of the breakwater is not a good idea due to “negative impacts that cannot be effectively mitigated in a cost-effective manner.” And while four out of the five alternatives could make up or exceed the construction costs of the project from recreation alone, they cost more on a cost-per-acre basis compared to a previous ecosystem restoration project, the Southern California Edison Wheeler Kelp Reef. All the alternatives range of about $10 million to $310 million dollars in construction costs.
The Army Corps determines federal interest through one of five missions: ecosystem restoration, in this case. This means the study must appeal to this mission by showing that the ocean’s environment is in trouble and that it can be fixed at a reasonable price.
Despite concerns about funding and time, the community was supportive of any action at all.
“It’s a good thing,” Randy Nordyke, Long Beach resident and surfer, said. “But it’s sad I might not see these changes in my lifetime.”