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Questions About Breakwater’s Need Swell After Storms

Published on Gazettes.com on April 7, 2010

“It was my civic duty. There could have been dead dogs and refrigerators floating next to me, but it wouldn’t have mattered. At least I could say, ‘I surfed my town.’”

Graham Day, owner of Shelter Surf Shop at 2148 E. Fourth St., explained why he had to surf in the aftermath of the local rainstorms the week of Jan. 19.

Although flooding was prevalent in city streets and polluted runoff water flowed into the ocean, Day said the storms resulted in a rare occurrence that he couldn’t pass up — four-to-five-foot swells in Long Beach. A second-generation California surfer, Day moved to Long Beach when he was 18 years old.

Despite the city’s lack of oceanfront waves due to the breakwater, Day said he felt a special connection with the city and has owned Shelter Surf for three years. As a member of the Surfrider Foundation Long Beach Chapter, Day is a proponent of lowering the breakwater to bring waves more than once every few decades to Long Beach.

“We have a beach that could be used, but it’s not,” Day said. “It’s amazing the amount of people that stop by (the store) and their questions have always been if they’re ever going to remove the breakwater and why I have a surf shop in a city with no waves.”

Shelter Surf Shop hosted a meeting of the local Surfrider chapter Monday evening. Seamus Innes, chapter secretary, spoke about the 12-year-old “Sink the Breakwater” campaign.

“The primary goal is to bring waves back to Long Beach and that would bring benefits like improving the water quality and bettering the (marine ecosystem),” Innes said. “The vision is to remove the entire breakwater (east of the Port of Long Beach) … Once the Navy left in 1997, the Long Beach breakwater lost its original purpose. I’ve seen ships moor inside and outside the breakwater, so it’s not really necessary.”

The Long Beach Chapter formed in 1998 as an offshoot of the Huntington Beach and Seal Beach Surfrider Foundation chapters because of the importance of the campaign. The foundation as a whole has been dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans, waves, and beaches through conservation, activism, research and education since 1984. Innes said the breakwater has gained more attention since the completion of the $90,000 Moffat & Nichol Reconnaissance Study last July. The study detailed how different reconfigurations of the breakwater would result in potential advantages and disadvantages.

“Sink the Breakwater” only involves the Long Beach breakwater, a 2.5-mile barrier approximately 1.5 miles off the coast that sits between the Queen’s Way Gate to the west and the Alamitos Channel to the east. The project would not affect the breakwaters protecting the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Innes said Long Beach loses up to $52 million each year because of the breakwater detracting from tourism and contributing to the pollution of the ocean off Long Beach, which contains trash and runoff from both the Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers. The opponents of lowering the breakwater cite an increased risk for flooding of homes along the Peninsula and Belmont Shore.

According to the campaign’s Web site, www.lbsurfrider.org/wordpress, Peninsula residents have suffered from sand erosion for decades. For the last 10 years, the city has spent up to $300,000 a year to move sand from Belmont Plaza to the Peninsula.

“A reconfiguration of the breakwater would have to require flood protection that is equal to or better than what currently exists,” Innes said. “Residents with beachfront homes and citywide properties would benefit from increased property value because wave action would attract more revenue.”

Samuel Lippke, a photographer and Belmont Shore resident, filmed a short movie called “Surfing Long Beach” on Jan. 21. In the film, surfers paddled out into the waters off Bay Shore Avenue, caught waves and rode them in as close as they could to shore.

“I’d like to think this isn’t the last time we’ll get to (surf) in Long Beach,” Lippke said. “I’m in my mid-20s, so I’m hoping in 10 to 15 years I’m going to be able to see waves like this back in Long Beach. The whole experience was incredible.”

The Moffat & Nichols study currently is being reviewed by the Army Corps of Engineers to determine interest in reconfiguring the breakwater, which remains under federal control.

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