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The Long Beach Breakwater should not be altered, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Monday, Nov. 25, the Corps released its long-anticipated Draft Integrated Feasibility Report on the East San Pedro Bay Ecosystem Restoration. That report has been three years in the making, and is the culmination of nearly decade-long official process that started in 2010 with the Corps conducting a preliminary Long Beach Breakwater Reconnaissance Study.

Despite efforts from city officials, the Corps rebuffed attempts to endorse breakwater changes.

"Over the last 14 years, the city has been deeply engaged with the Army Corps of Engineers to study possible ecosystem restoration and breakwater reconfiguration along our coast," Mayor Robert Garcia tweeted Monday. "We have invested significant resources and personnel to support the work of the Army Corps as they conducted both their reconnaissance and feasibility studies. I am incredibly disappointed with the results and conclusions made by the Army Corps. I’ve agreed with many members of the community who believe that modifications to the breakwater could lead to ecosystem restoration, better water quality and recreational opportunities." 

The Long Beach Chapter of the SurfRider Foundation, with support from some elected officials, have lobbied to sink or reconfigure the breakwater to allow for waves on Long Beach's beaches. The reconnaissance study results indicated it wasn't economically feasible to do anything to the breakwater.

But in 2016, the Corps had streamlined its study process and city officials lobbied for another, more in-depth study. The result was a 3-3-3 study proposal — three years for $3 million to complete a 3-inch-thick study.

The city, with approval from the City Council, agreed to pay most of the $3 million for the study. When the Corps technicians attempted to drop all breakwater reconfiguration plans at an early point, city officials insisted that breakwater reconfiguration remain in the alternatives.

Monday, the Corps released the report with a plan to provide near-shore and off-shore rocky reefs, kelp reefs and eelgrass beds, as the preferred approach. If it moves forward, it would be the first ever open ocean ecosystem restoration.

The two potential breakwater changes — notching the western breakwater or removing the eastern breakwater — didn't make it to the final array of alternatives for a number of reasons, according to the report. First, the cost involved did not accomplish the same level of environmental or habitat improvement that less costly near-shore reefs and kelp beds did. Second, the potential impacts to national security (Navy operations), the ports and other infrastructure were too great to move forward.

"Stakeholders characterized impacts based on wave modeling results showing locations, increase in occurrence and height of wave impacts. Impacts to the U.S. Navy, port ship pilots, THUMS oil islands, Carnival Cruise Line, and other maritime stakeholders including recreational activities were evaluated. Due to impacts to national security, ports operations and safety, only the three restoration focused plans were carried forward," the report says.

Garcia said public meetings and council approvals still remain. But he said the city may have to bow to the Corps conclusions about potential dangers.

"I was hopeful that breakwater modification was possible while protecting coastal homes and our port complex," he said. "However, I have always said that we would be guided by the science and the data. The Army Corps’ conclusions that any modification to the breakwater poses a national security risk is substantial and must be taken seriously… For any project to move forward, the city must also agree with the selected alternative, and that discussion will be in front of the City Council in 2020.”

The public comment period for the Draft Environmental Impact Report will begin Friday, Nov. 29, and go to Jan. 27. The entire report is available at www.spl.usace.army.mil/Missions/Civil-Works/Projects-Studies/East-San-Pedro-Bay-Ecosystem-Restoration-Study/ as well as Long Beach City Hall, the Port Administration building, the Billie Jean King Main Library, and Wilmington and San Pedro branch libraries.

There will be two public meetings about the report from 3 to 5 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. Dec. 9 at the Aquarium of the Pacific.

NOTE: This story was updated to include comments from Mayor Robert Garcia.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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