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Sand mining extension sparks concerns among Coastside cities

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Paul Sakuma/AP Photo
San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development recently granted approval for Hanson Marine Operations

Sand mining operations in San Francisco Bay will be allowed to continue for at least another 10 years, despite objections from San Mateo County officials who are worried about potential impacts to local beaches.

In a unanimous vote, the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission recently granted approval for Hanson Marine Operations, Lind Marine Associates and Suisun Associates (a third entity made up of the first two companies) to continue their mining activities in the Bay and the general area of Suisun Bay and Suisun Bay Channel.

That approval, however, does come with some strings attached. Mark Addiego, a commission member and South San Francisco vice mayor, noted the permit applicants would be required to fund a $1 million study by independent consultants to determine whether their operations are negatively impacting the environment.

“The applicants could find themselves in the position of funding a study that ultimately puts them out of business,” Addiego said.

The San Francisco Bay mining site sits roughly inside a triangle between Crissy Field in San Francisco, Alcatraz Island and Sausalito. The occasional presence of a sand barge is usually the only clue to onlookers that the operations are taking place, with the sand being sucked from the ocean floor via large tubes.

Need for the sand is fueled by the Bay Area's booming construction industry, which uses the material to make cement and some road surfaces.

But beaches in San Francisco and along the coast in San Mateo County also need that sand to replenish themselves, said Pacifica City Councilman Mike O'Neill, adding that coastal erosion has threatened oceanfront property in his town.

Ocean currents transport sand from the Bay to the beaches in Pacifica and along the Coastside, O'Neill said, and reducing the supply might lead to beach erosion. Without robust beaches absorbing the impacts of waves, the town's cliffs and sea walls will be threatened, the councilman said.

And because Pacifica's identity as a beach town is crucial to its ability to attract visitors, any threat to its beaches is a threat to its economy, O'Neill noted.

The Pacifica City Council recently voted 4-0 to send a letter to the BCDC asking it to limit sand mining operations in the Bay, and San Mateo County Harbor District Commissioner Nicole David said she plans to ask her fellow commissioners to take similar action.

Much of the Bay's sand originates as sediment carried by water from the Sierra Nevada, David said, and California's current drought has impacted that supply, reducing the Bay's ability to replenish its sand.

Over the next 10 years, the mining companies will be allowed to take about 15 million cubic yards of sand from the three sites in question, David said, and she worries that's too much.

“I definitely think sand mining in San Francisco Bay should only be permitted at a rate that allows for replenishment,” she said.

Addiego said the commission's decision was partly motivated by a desire to avoid economic impacts that could lead to job losses in construction trades. Another factor was the significant carbon footprint associated with shipping sand to the Bay Area from British Columbia and Mexico.

The permit applicants could not be reached for comment.

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