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Lowering Breakwater Could Help Ecosystem

Published 7/24/2009 on Gazttes Town-News

A lowering of parts of the Long Beach Breakwater could help
improve water quality and be used to create a new rocky bottom marine
habitat and kelp forest, restoring the ecosystem off the Long Beach
coast.

    That is the key of the findings in a Reconnaissance
study just completed by the Long Beach firm of Moffatt & Nichol, a
study that will be presented to the City Council tonight (Monday) in a
public session.

Whether the study convinces the Army Corps of Engineers — the
people in charge of the Long Beach Breakwater — to go forward with a $7
million feasibility study remains to be seen (as does how the city pays
for its half of that cost). The Army Corps only moves forward if a
project meets specific criteria, which is why the Reconnais-sance study
focuses on the repair of a damaged ecosystem, one of those reasons the
Corps can get involved.

    This study will be presented to the Corps, which will review it and make a decision on whether to move forward.

The study says that the idea of fully removing the breakwater,
all the way down to the original seabed, should not be done because,
“there are too many negative impacts that cannot be effectively
mitigated in a cost-effective manner.”


    However, as members of Surfrider and
other environmental groups have suggested for years, engineers could
lower part of the main breakwater then use the rocks from the
breakwater to create a rocky habitat and potential kelp forest. The
study found that does have benefits.

    The Reconnaissance
study suggests that the Army Corps look at a range of options, from
lowering a smaller portion of the Western end of the breakwater to
lowering almost the entire eastern two-thirds of the breakwater.

  
 Each of those options had a variety of water quality and wave impacts
on the coast, which are detailed in the report. The moves could add
wave action from almost nothing up to four feet in some of the options.
The costs range from about $15 million all the way up to $310 million
(of which the city would have to pay a portion).

    One idea
discussed in the study is to create a new breakwater near the shore
designed to redirect the flow of polluted water from the Los Angeles
River more out to sea and not down the Long Beach coast. That is looked
at as both a stand-alone project and something to be done in
conjunction with breakwater lowering configurations.

    The
study seems to favor plans that remove about 4,500 feet of the western
end of the Breakwater, which would cost between $110 million and $220
million. The cost difference ties into what is done with the removed
rock — is it just made into a rocky bottom habitat for animals, or can
some of that rock be used to create the new Los Angeles River
redirection breakwater.

    This study
goes beyond what is normally asked of in a Reconnaissance study in that
it used computerized hydrodynamic and water quality modeling to judge
the impacts of some of the changes.

    The study also suggests
that a change to improve water quality and bring back waves would be
good for the Long Beach economy. Long Beach could see up to $52 million
a year in increased spending and another $6.7 million in taxes and fees
if changes are made.

    However, that information does not figure into the Army Corps decision.

  
 “While of significant interest to the city of Long Beach, recreational
value and the associated economic impacts is not one of the Corps’ main
missions, and thus those benefits alone are not enough to justify any
Corps project,” the study states. “The main Army Corps mission used for
this study is ecosystem restoration.”

    One of the things a
Feasibility study would have to consider more closely is the impact of
waves created by breakwater changes would have on both the Port of Long
Beach and shipping, as well as the existing THUMBS oil islands, the
study found. These issues could require additional mitigation.

  
 One thing that cannot be changed or affected is the U.S. Navy
explosives anchorage, located just inside the breakwater. This
anchorage is used by U.S. Navy ships to transfer explosives and/or
sensitive electronics equipment and it cannot be impacted by changes,
the study said.

    All of this and more will be discussed at a public session before the City Council tonight.

  
 “The meeting is going to be a presentation about what we did, the
outreach and meetings, and the findings of the study,” said Tom Modica,
manager of government affairs for the city and the person who
spearheaded the public outreach efforts on this study.

    The meeting starts at 5 p.m. July 27 in the City Council chambers at City Hall, 333 W. Ocean Blvd.

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