Published 6/19/2008 on Grunion Gazette
Long Beach’s City Council wants a study done on reconfiguring the Long Beach Breakwater and Tuesday night approved a $100,000 contract to an engineering firm to do it.
The challenge will be getting the Army Corps of Engineers to look at it.
This week, the City Council approved a contract with the engineering firm Moffatt & Nichol to do a “reconnaissance study,” the first step in getting any changes made to the offshore structure. That study is expected to take about a year to complete.
“This measure is about clean water, bringing waves back to the beach and being visionary,” said Fourth District Councilman Patrick O’Donnell.
The Army Corps of Engineers built and is responsible for the breakwater, something it was ordered to do by Congress in the early 1940s to set up a safe harbor for Navy vessels and to protect the growing port area.
Environmental groups have been pushing for more than a decade to do studies and eventually reconfigure the eastern part of the breakwater. They hope to return waves to the Long Beach shore, something they say will improve water quality and bring people to the beach.
Last year, the City Council asked for the study and this year agreed to pay for it. The action Tuesday approved the contract.
The city’s cost could be cut in half thanks to a $50,000 grant from the California Coastal Conservancy. However, the grant funding is contingent upon a $30,000 federal appropriation from Congress for the Army Corps of Engineers to formally accept and review the city’s study.
The Corps could have done the reconnaissance study but only if it is ordered to by Congress. It will take a congressional vote to get them the money to just review it. So far, local federal representatives have not pushed for it. Both the Surfrider Foundation and city officials have reached out to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, the Republican Congressman from Huntington Beach who represents the coastal area of Long Beach, but people described those meetings as “frosty.”
Third District Councilman Gary DeLong said the city should follow the Coastal Conservancy’s lead and not approve the contract until they had approval to get the Army Corps to read it.
“I don’t think we should gamble $100,000 of taxpayers’ money,” he said before the council meeting. “I think we should follow the conservancy’s lead and wait until we have all our ducks in a row.”
Ninth District Councilman Val Lerch joined DeLong in first supporting a motion to wait (which failed) and then voting against the contract.
“We’re paying for a preliminary study to get (the Army Corps) to do their next study, which would cost millions,” said Deputy City Attorney Heather Mahood. “We have to do this first study to get on their radar.”
Even if the Army Corps ends up reviewing the reconnaissance study, there are a lot more steps needed — and a lot of money that must be found — to get the breakwater work done.
First, the Army Corps would have to rule the reconnaissance study showed it was in the best economic interest of Long Beach to move forward. That would include impacts on the Port of Long Beach and on homes along the coast.
As a second step, Congress would need to approve an Army Corps feasibility study, a $3 million to $5 million project, of which Long Beach would need to pay half. This study would include new and detailed environmental work, look more closely at the impact on the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, as well as impacts on the beach in Long Beach and the impact of waves on the shore and property.
If the feasibility study results and any plans for changes were approved, then there would be the pre-construction and actual work. That could cost between $150 million and $400 million, and again the city or port would have to pay a portion.
The contract was approved 6-2, with DeLong and Lerch voting no.