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    San Clemente will invest in getting permits so it will be ready when opportunities for sand arise
    • February 23, 2024

    San Clemente officials are hoping to expand their chances of bringing sand to the coastal town’s shore, renewing a program that will allow the city to seek out “opportunistic sand.”

    But first, it needs to weave through a maze of permitting and approvals that could take up to two years, and likely spend hundreds of thousands dollars, just to get the go-ahead to find available sand to bring to its beaches.

    San Clemente city leaders this week approved renewing its SCOUPS permit – short for Sand Compatibility and Opportunistic Use Program – a state program it had participated in about a decade ago, but its five-year permit expired.

    The step is the latest in the town’s attempt to manage and maintain its eroding coastline, where at times during high tide several of its beaches become a sliver or are non existent.

    Maintaining sand is important not just for recreational space, but because the beach is a major tourism draw and sand serves as a buffer between the ocean and infrastructure, such as the railroad that passes along its shoreline.

    The program would allow the city to explore opportunities outside of the pending U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project – which will add about 251,000 cubic yards of sand between T-Street and Linda Lane once it resumes after delays – to add supply to other areas of the city’s beach in need, city coastal administrator Leslea Meyerhoff recently explained to the City Council.

    “We’re looking for opportunistically-available sources – sediment that comes out of Santa Ana River, excavation from construction sites where there’s export material compatible with the beach, landslide material that has fallen onto the slope,” said  Meyerhoff. “The program is opportunistic in nature, but it is an important tool to have in the toolbox and quite a few cities and counties have them in California.”

    OC Parks is also currently in the SCOUPS application process, but San Clemente wants to be able to do its own projects, if necessary, to be a little more aggressive and nimble to get sand on its beaches, City Manager Andy Hall said.

    The city used its SCOUPS permit twice for projects in North Beach, first in 2005 to bring-in 5,000 cubic yards of sand and again in 2016 when it brought 12,000 cubic yards from the Santa Ana River, much like a project done at Capistrano Beach last summer.

    The sand was free, however the city had to pay about $625,000 to haul the supply to its shoreline.

    About 1,000 truckloads of sand from the Santa Ana River were placed on North Beach in 2016. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Now with the City Council’s unanimous approval to move forward, city staffers can start preparing the regulatory permit applications required from a lengthy list of agencies –  the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the California Coastal Commission, the Regional Water Quality Control Board, California State Lands Commission and the Southern California Regional Rail Authority – a process that could take up to two years.

    The permitting process could cost anywhere from $250,000 to $400,000, including consultants fees and environmental reviews, Meyerhoff said.

    Once permitted, the city would look at various sources for sand.  The Santa Ana River is one that has been used several times by many municipalities, including most recently at Capistrano Beach and Doheny State Beach when 3,000 truckload were hauled in, but the city might also be able to access sources such as the Prado Dam, inland riverbeds or even the desert.

    Meyerhoff said she received an email from someone in Palm Springs who said they had “millions and millions” of cubic yards of sand, the cost to the city would mostly be the trucking cost.

    “There’s a lot of sand sources out there,” she said, noting the material has to be considered “beach compatible.”

    Councilman Steve Knoblock was also contacted recently by the Orange County Water District saying the Prado Dam had an “unlimited amount” of beach-quality sand they could ship to San Clemente on railcars.

    “I’d like to be able to take advantage of that,” he said.

    Knoblock also asked if the city’s staff had been in talks with the Orange County Transportation Authority, which in the past has dumped boulders along the railway to protect its infrastructure, to help with bringing in sand instead. There are concerns the boulder can contribute to erosion in the future.

    “We would certainly work with them as a partner agency, we do have ongoing discussions with them as part of their resiliency plan and the needs of the city,” Meyerhoff said.

    The city last year released a study identifying “critical hot spots,” as part of its Nature Based Resiliency Project Feasibility Study. 

    A train makes its way north along the coast at North Beach in San Clemente as waves crash against the rocks just below the railroad tracks on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. The city is hopes more sand will help its disappearing beaches. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    The city also last year held a town hall to discuss ideas to retain sand, such as building offshore reefs or groin jetties, similar to what Newport Beach put in decades ago to combat severe erosion that threatened homes.

    Suzie Whitelaw, a member of Save Our Beaches San Clemente, showed photos of threatened areas along the coast, starting with the Shorecliffs clubhouse that has an eroded beach with sand bags set out for protection; the concession stand in North Beach that has little sand under it; and the city’s south end where 3,500 feet of rock boulders have overtaken the beach.

    She said the city should explore bringing sand from the Prado Dam by rail, which has less environmental impact than trucking it in.

    “We can dump it right on the beach,” she said. “Just some dozers on the beach or let Mother Nature spread it around once it’s on the beach.”

    The city is holding a second community meeting from 4 to 7 p.m. on Feb. 29 at City Hall to present a draft of the nature-based sand retention solutions being considered. Following an open house that shows various designs for various sections of the coast, there will be a presentation by city officials and consultants.

    Several ideas, such as creating reefs to mimic Lower Trestles and T-Street, were showcased last year for addressing short-term and long-term coastal erosion. The city will use the new feedback to refine the designs, officials said, which are expected to be published in a draft feasibility study later this year.

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    ​ Orange County Register