Correction: The proposed project is known as a permeable steel groin installation. It is not a “groan” installation. The Nexus regrets this error.

The fate of nearby Goleta Beach, long a victim of destructive beach erosion, has created some controversy between the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors and local environmental groups this past week after it unanimously voted to send a proposal to the California Coastal Commission.

Attracting over a million people a year, Goleta Beach County Park is among the county’s most popular parks, yet for the last 10 years, it has slowly eroded away at the behest of the Pacific Ocean. As such, the Board of Supervisors has attempted to mitigate and prevent further erosion, by using temporary fixes such as rock walls that are still found along the beach’s western end. On Thursday, however, the board took a large step forward toward a more permanent solution by agreeing to send a proposal to the Coastal Commission suggesting a permeable steel groin installation along the already existing pier.

The board’s decision, however, has caused controversy between the board and local environmental groups. The Santa Barbara Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation and the Environmental Defense Center does not approve of the process by which the proposal was approved.

The board, acting against precedents, authorized the proposal without first completing a review of the Environmental Impact Report, an assessment of the project’s likely impact on the surrounding habitats. The groups contend that the board thus decided upon a permeable steel groin without fully exploring alternatives.

Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf said the board should have reviewed an EIR prior to the decision.

“In my opinion, the prudent path would have been to do the EIR before,” Wolf said. “Certainly there is a lot of support for the permeable pier. I’m not debating that. My concern is with the process.”

However, 3rd District Supervisor Brooks Firestone said he believed a quick resolution was necessary to prevent further erosion.

“Well over a million people that use that park and we owe it to them to keep it there,” Firestone said. “The preoccupation with process concerns me but what concerns me more is the million plus people that use that beach.”

The plan asks the Coastal Commission for workers to install a permeable groin along the pier’s southern side along with 500,000 cubic yards of sand strategically placed on either side of the pier. The idea is that the groin will create a maze through which the water and sand will have to travel, allowing the beach to build up slowly while simultaneously not affecting beaches down shore.

According to county staff, the estimated cost of the project is around $9.7 million over the next 20 years, which is in addition to the $3 million already spent over the last 10 years.

UCSB Environmental Studies Professor Ed Keller said he is skeptical about the plan’s future effectiveness.

“I am not convinced this very expensive plan will work in the long run,” Keller said. “Over a shorter time it may well work to keep more sand on the beach. … [but] I expect the Coastal Commission will have a hard time deciding without more environmental review. … The ball is now in the court of the Coastal Commission, who might request more review.”

Environmental Defense Council analyst Brian Trautwein said he fears the impacts a permeable groin will have on other local beaches.

“With regards to the project, we retained about half a dozen experts to review the EIR back in 2007 and our experts concluded that they had serious environmental concerns with the project,” Trautwein said. “We feel the [Coastal] Commission will come back to the county and say we can’t approve this because there are more environmentally friendly alternatives available.”

Alternatives to the groin include a “managed retreat” as well as additional rock walls.

According to Supervisor Wolf, the board’s quick decision was done in large part out of necessity. The previous permit from the Coastal Commission, which allowed the county to install a rock revetment, expired on Jan. 14.
Correction: The proposed project is call

Despite the board’s decision, Trautwein said the EDC will continue to work for what it feels is a more appropriate solution.

“While we’re objecting, we want to work with the county on an acceptable solution,” Trautwein said. “We are looking at other alternatives that would protect the park without damaging the beach.”

As for the next step, the county must wait on the Coastal Commission to make its decision, Firestone said.

“The Coastal Commission pretty much does what it wants to,” Firestone said. “I will be at the Coastal Commission advocating for the people, though.”