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Published 7/8/2009 on the District Weekly

These days, you can’t swing a dead cat by its tail in Long Beach
without hitting a breakwater study—odd, considering the overbuilt wall
of rocks has just been sitting there for 60 years in the midst of much
pelican poo, modulating protest and considerably sparse research.

In a single rotation, our ill-fated feline hit four separate reports
related to the 2.14-mile structure, credited with turning Long Beach
into the waveless septic sink it is today. (Five reports if you count The District Weekly’s breakwater recon study drafted in our July 23, 2008, story, “Take One! It’s Free!”).

The reports include an official city-sponsored reconnaissance study
by Moffatt & Nichol, a donated double-dish of coastal advice by
retired engineer and former Marine Advisory Commission member C.P. Bud
Johnson and a surfability report drafted by Surfline’s very own Sean
Collins. And as reported last week on, Congresswoman Laura
Richardson has obtained a $100,000 federal earmark from the House
Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water, intended to pay the
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to review Moffatt & Nichol’s recon
study—a report the city voted to pay $100,000 for in July 2007,
splitting the expense with the California Coastal Conservancy.

A review of a study? Yes. Although the Army Corps’ review might seem
like overkill, it’s necessary to determine federal interest and
participation in the next phases of breakwater reconfiguration
(feasibility and pre-construction/construction). Fortunately, the Army
Corps will only need $30,000 to review the Moffatt & Nichol study,
according to Tom Modica, manager of government affairs for the city
manager’s office. But it’s good to aim high, since the earmark will
likely be whittled down by the time it makes its way through the full
House Appropriations Committee, the House and then the Senate.

Here’s an overview of all four studies:

In the works for a full year at a pretty penny, this stack of paper,
the only official breakwater study, will be the city of Long Beach’s
breakwater bible, referenced by the Army Corps and the city for all
breakwater reconfiguration decisions. All other studies are considered
supplemental information.

Although Moffatt & Nichol has finished both recon study
documents required by Army Corps standards—a Section 905(b) Analysis
and a Project Management Plan (PMP)—the full report has not been
published and will not be presented to the city council until late
July, although no date has been set yet. The Section 905(b) Analysis is
a fill-in-the-blank document provided by the Army Corps that will
summarize the results of the study; the PMP will outline the scope of
work ahead and give a cost estimate for the feasibility phase.

Johnson—in plain view of the Long Beach coastline most of his life—has
donated two separate reports to the city regarding the breakwater
complex. He published his initial 46-page study, “Environmental Impact
Concerns, Long Beach Harbor,” in February 2008, releasing a condensed
12-page revision in February ’09.

The first draft offered an extensive historical explanation for the
current state of San Pedro Bay, detailing how the Port of Long Beach’s
Pier J expansion and the city’s Queensway Bay developments blocked
circulation that existed in the ’60s, even with the breakwater in
place. This version made several recommendations for reconfiguration,
including creating one or several openings in the breakwater.

The second draft recommended creating “Johnson’s Gate,” or a single,
1,800-foot gap in the breakwater east of the current opening at Queens
Gate. Johnson claims the new opening would allow for tidal flushing
twice daily and compensate for the tidal interference caused by Pier J
expansions and the Queensway Bay developments (without further
jeopardizing the structures behind the breakwater or the current
stakeholders). Another perk: his name gets to go down in Long Beach
history on the new maps of the coast, should his idea be adopted.

Johnson’s second report, a concise 11-page document entitled
“Environmental Impact Concerns, Los Angeles Harbor,” was released early
last month and encourages the Port of Los Angeles to work closely with
the Port of Long Beach toward breakwater efforts already underway. The
document recommends the Port of LA cut a new opening in the San Pedro
Breakwater segment to allow for better tidal flushing of the Cabrillo
Beach and inner harbor areas. Johnson also thinks the Army Corps will
look kindly on the joint efforts of both ports and will be more likely
to acknowledge federal interest for breakwater reconfiguration in both

Seal Beach native and 50-year surfing veteran Sean Collins is the
founder of Surfline, one of the world’s leading surf forecasters. Now
in its 25th year of business, the company has contracts with the U.S.
Coast Guard, the U.S. Navy, various weather channels and reaches
millions of surfers. Surfline’s report, released at the end of June,
states that Long Beach could be one hell of a surf spot—should the
breakwater be completely removed. It’s sexy.

The Long Beach chapter of Surfrider Foundation contracted Collins
for $1,000 to outline what the surf climate of Long Beach would be like
without a breakwater. In a 25-page document entitled “Surfline’s Long
Beach Breakwater Surf Report,” Collins (who was contacted by Moffatt
& Nichol during its recon research to retrieve figures on the
number of surfers and other beachgoers Long Beach could potentially
gain by an active beach) notes that 394,200 surfers would visit Long
Beach annually during the allowable morning surf hours. If they only
had a wave.

The figure is based on methodology invented by Collins, including a
Surfability Index and a Surfer’s Analysis, comparing detailed findings
across five years at nearby Seal Beach and Bolsa Chica Beach; it does
not factor in how many other people would visit the beach for different
water recreation.

Collins also has the gumption to say what even the Army Corps has
been dancing around for six decades: the Long Beach Breakwater is
causing the erosion problems on the peninsula—a problem that costs Long
Beach’s tax payers upward of $500,000 annually.

“The Long Beach Breakwater prevents that natural ebb and flow of
wave action to balance the sand transport along the beach, which
significantly contributes to the erosion along the peninsula,” the
report states. “There is strong evidence that removal of the Long Beach
Breakwater would improve long term erosion by allowing more equally
balanced wave action along the beach.”

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