Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Seawall Threatens Martin's Beach

Seawalls are beach killers.  Placing a hardened structure on the beach in an area of wave runup causes the wave energy to reflect off the structure and back at the beach, resulting in further erosion of the beach seaward of the wall.  So imagine our surprise and distress when we learned that San Mateo County had approved a 963 foot long seawall--stretching the beachfront road at Martin's--in an attempt to protect the road from the encroaching ocean. 

The property owner applied for an emergency permit through the County to protect the road from erosion.  What's most interesting about this is that the intent of an emergency permit is to fast track a project through the permitting process when the project purpose is to respond to an emergency event, such as episodic loss of beach in a winter storm.  Anyone who's been to Martin's probably has seen clues that the beach has been experiencing erosion for a long time, such as the narrowing of the sandy beach over time, or the block wall at the south end of the beach.  So, it's hard to see how this qualifies as an emergency event.  

Another interesting and arguably non-emergency component of the project is the proposed demolishment of the old restrooms to construct a fire turnaround.  The need for a fire turnaround seems negligible at best, especially given that there has never been one in the history of the property.  The conspiracy theorist's take on this is that the turnaround would facilitate the destruction of another visitor-serving facet of the property and further obfuscate the property's historic use by the public.  

In any case, the County saw fit to issue an emergency permit and did so on January 28.  However, because it was an emergency permit, there was no public process around it, nor was there in-depth consideration of project alternatives.  There wasn't even public notification of the permit issuance until after the fact!  Surfrider didn't learn about the permit until February 11.  

After unsuccessfully working to convince the Planning Commission that the project was unlawful and should be halted, and attempting to appeal the project to the Coastal Commission (which apparently isn't possible with emergency permits), all we could hope for was that the Coastal Commission would step in and assert jurisdiction, since most of the project area lies within lands of the state.  With lines drawn and stakes in the ground, the Coastal Commission swooped in just in time with their boundary determination on March 8, asserting their jurisdiction and requiring the applicant to obtain a permit from them.  

So now, we wait to see if an application is filed.  Stay tuned! 


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