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Federal Breakwater Money Must Wait

Published 7/24/2008 on Grunion Gazette 

Long Beach may be doing a study on reconfiguring a portion of the Long Beach breakwater, but the federal government isn’t going to read it any time soon.

That’s because a $30,000 appropriation to cover the Army Corps of Engineers’ review of the study Long Beach is paying for is not in the upcoming federal budget.

Tom Modica, manager of government affairs for the city, said they would try again next year.

“We have the opportunity to submit again in January for the 2010 federal budget cycle, and that is still within the time frame to use the ($50,000) Coastal Conservancy grant,” Modica said.

Last month, 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.

While the city can do the study, the Army Corps of Engineers built and is responsible for the breakwater and would have to review the study. The Army Corps was ordered to build it by Congress in the early 1940s to set up a safe harbor for Navy vessels and to protect the growing port area.

The Army Corps does only what Congress tells it. Catherine Shuman, the project planner for the Corps, told a recent gathering of Long Beach residents that if the city wants the Corps to review the breakwater study, it requires Congressional approval and they should write their representative.

For the coastal area of Long Beach, that representative is Dana Rohrabacher (46th District), the 20-year incumbent Republican based out of Orange County.

Protocol in this situation would be for Long Beach to submit its application through Rohrabacher’s office.

Long Beach submitted the request not only there but also to Congresswoman Laura Richardson’s office (she represents most of Long Beach) as well as Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.

Both Richardson and Feinstein submitted it to the Appropriations Committee, where the effort died. Without Rohrabacher supporting it in his district, the chances were slim that this would be approved.

Modica said that Feinstein’s office told him a tight federal budget was the key problem.

“The response was they are funding very few new projects, focusing on ones that are (at the next phase),” Modica said. “There are no new projects approved in all of California.”

If changes are going to happen to the breakwater, Long Beach will need considerable cooperation from Congress.

First, the Army Corps would have to be given the money, review the reconnaissance study paid for by Long Beach and find it was in the best economic interest to move forward.

Next, Congress would need to approve an Army Corps feasibility study, a $3 million to $5 million project, and Long Beach would need to pay half of that cost. 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 Congressional approval for 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 local chapter of Surfrider and others have lobbied for a change for two decades.

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