Oil Piers Artificial Reef - VC Star
Tie-ups in legislation, funding keep plan for artificial reef at bay
By Scott Hadly, shadly@...
March 23, 2007
The perfect wave requires the right combination of local conditions and a swell often generated thousands of miles away in the Gulf of Alaska, or in the cauldron of weather in the "roaring 40s" above Antarctica.
But the rebirth of waves at oil piers and the long-dead break "Stanley's" hinges more on mechanics and an arcane budget process thousands of miles away in Washington.
A more-than-decade-old hope to build an artificial reef at the site of the former Exxon Mobil oil piers between Seacliff and Mussel Shoals has been in limbo since 2005.
Congress has yet to pass the Water Resources Development Act, a huge piece of legislation giving the Army Corps of Engineers the authority to undertake work in rivers, harbors and on the nation's coastlines. Not only that, but the money for the project would have to come from a separate appropriations bill specifically for innovative erosion control programs, said Susie Ming, chief of the coastal studies group for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Los Angeles.
It's possible that Congress will pass the legislation this session, but it's by no means guaranteed, said Jan Rasgus, a policy adviser for the Army Corps of Engineers in Washington, D.C.
For officials at the Army Corps of Engineers, interest in the $2.2 million artificial reef proposal isn't so much because of the potential for surf, but because it might offer an alternative way to protect the coast. While the ebb and flow of beach sand is a natural seasonal process, man-made structures including dams, harbors and seawalls can cut off the natural down-coast drift of sand.
When a sand-starved beach is hit by big swells there is more of a chance that the waves will damage coastal property.
Building reefs specifically for surfing
In the past the Army Corps of Engineers embraced the use of "hardscape" along the beach such as break walls, rock groins and jetties. Now, the idea is to place an artificial reef offshore that absorbs the energy of the waves before they hit shore. In addition, sand builds up in the lee of the reef, extending the width of the beach.
When designed correctly, the reefs have the added benefit of generating ridable waves.
"I don't think the corps or any other official likes to play up the surf angle," said Gary Ross, executive director of the Stanley's Reef Foundation, a nonprofit he formed more than a decade ago with the hope of building the artificial reef at the Oil Piers site.
However, Ross wondered why government officials wouldn't consider building artificial reefs specifically for surfing. Public money is spent to build golf courses, basketball courts, campgrounds, hiking trails or other recreational sites, why not a surf spot, Ross said.
It's hard to put a value on the lost surf spots for the thousands of surfers who would use them.
"It's like that Visa commercial, The price of an artificial surfing reef $2.2 million, price of watching your son catch a wave, priceless,' " he said.
Chance to protect beach from erosion
A local inventor and surfer, Ross has been lobbying for the idea of an artificial reef at the site since the mid-1990s. The organization was named after a surf spot about 100 yards south of the two Oil Piers, destroyed in 1970 with the construction of Highway 101 and the offramp at Seacliff.
A small cafe called Stanley's Diner also was also taken out by the freeway construction. Another surf spot between the two Oil Piers was lost when those structures were removed in 1998.
The idea of an artificial reef caught on not only with local surfers but also with the regional Beach Erosion Authority for Clean Oceans and Nourishment. Made up of government representatives from Santa Barbara and Ventura counties and coastal cities, the group embraced the idea as a way to enhance recreational opportunities and protect the beach from erosion, said Ventura City Councilman Brian Brennan.
Although Ross and his group were in it from the beginning, their design didn't win out. Five years ago, the Army Corps of Engineers chose a design by New Zealand-based ASR Limited.
The company, which has built artificial reefs in New Zealand and Australia and is behind the design of a surfing wave pool in Florida, estimates its design could generate surfable waves 160 days a year and expand the size of the beach.
The reef would be about 50 feet wide and 140 feet long and made of sand-filled tubes made of a flexible synthetic material that would be removable if necessary.
Fabric for tubes is petroleum-based
Shaw Meed, a director and environmental scientist for ASR, said officials from the Army Corps of Engineers contacted him in January to rework the numbers on the proposed reef at Oil Piers.
The $2.2 million estimate for construction has likely gone up, Meed said.
The fabric for the tubes is a textile that, like most plastics, is a petroleum-based product. As oil prices have climbed, so too has the cost of the fabric, Meed said.
Chad Nelson, environmental director for the Surfrider Foundation, said his organization supports the plan but in general is leery of altering the natural environment with artificial reefs.
The organization wants to avoid the idea that breaks like the now-gone spots Stanley's or Dana Point in Orange County can be destroyed and simply replaced with a man-made reef.
Meanwhile local officials are waiting to see what happens in Washington, Brennan said. The California Coastal Commission also placed a sort of bookmark for the project on its future agenda.
On the beach, surfer Nick Delara, 38, said he'd like to see the reef built. While fishing with two buddies, Delara, who's been coming to this spot since he was 12, said after the Oil Piers were removed much of the beach went with them.
Now the narrow spit of sand is sometimes covered at high tide and the waves come right up against the rocks.
He liked the idea of the reef rebuilding the lost beach and creating a surf spot.
"That'd be great," Delara said.
Surfrider Foundation Ventura County Chapter
Coordinator, Matilija Coalition
(805) 648-4005 pjenkin@...