MR. LONG BEACH: What’s Breaking with the Breakwater

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Q. What’s the status of the breakwater?
— Lauren Williams, Belmont Heights

A. We are “further along today then ever before in the history of the breakwater” toward ecosystem restoration, according to Vice Mayor Robert Garcia.

But what does that mean? 

The breakwater is owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. As much as city leaders would like to alter it, they can’t. At least not without working with the Corps.

The Feds required the city to pay for half the cost of an ecosystem recovery study before any decisions are made about the breakwater. The Corps of Engineers will pay the rest.

Years ago the City of Long Beach set aside $4 million of Tidelands funds to pay for its share of the study. Last year the price tag on that study dropped to $3 million.

Garcia said the city agreed to pony up 75 percent of that money, or $2.25 million, to get the ball rolling. He expects it to start early this year.

The Vice Mayor stressed that his, and the city’s, goal is to do as much ecosystem restoration as possible without damage to homes and other assets. He added that could mean altering the breakwater, removing sections or something completely different – it depends on the results of the study.

What IS the breakwater?

The Long Beach Breakwater, one of the world’s largest, is an 8.4-mile rocky force field about 2 1/2 miles from the coast that keeps waves at bay and prevents erosion. It was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from 1941 to 1949.

Sitting in about 50 feet of water and rising 10 feet above sea level, the barrier was built to protect the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet that was stationed in the city. The Navy left in 1996 and that’s when serious debate started about changing, or removing, the breakwater.

When it comes to the line of Santa Catalina Island rocks off our coast, everyone has an opinion. Most people seem to be in favor of tearing it down. However, some believe that the breakwater is the only thing protecting multi-million dollar homes on the Peninsula.

The consensus is that if we tear down the breakwater, the surf – and surfers – will return. That may be the hope of many. But, the surf may not return. Mr. Long Beach remembers covering a breakwater story long ago where an engineer explained that since the Port of Long Beach now extends much further then it did in the 1930s there will never be surf like there once was.

As for the city, surf may be a by product, but officials are sticking to their stated goal of “ecosystem restoration.”

In the end, it’s all guess work. Will the surf return? Will the Peninsula homes fall? Will anything ever be done with the breakwater? Only time will tell.

From queries about the history of Long Beach to questions about your neighborhood, Mr. Long Beach will find the answers. Send your questions to MrLongBeach@lbregister.com