Appeal to stop ‘excessive’ sand mining in SF Bay scheduled for next week

An environmental group will present arguments in an appeals court next week in what may be the group’s final legal effort to stop what it deems excessive sand mining in the San Francisco Bay.

San Francisco Baykeeper sued the California State Lands Commission in late 2012 after the commission certified its final environmental impact report, claiming the private companies whose leases were approved that year to mine sand in the Bay for construction projects contribute to erosion at Ocean Beach and threaten the Bay’s ecosystem.

A San Francisco Superior Court judge ruled against SF Baykeeper in April 2014, but the environmental group subsequently appealed that decision and is expected to present its arguments in the California 1st District Court of Appeal on Aug. 25.

Should SF Baykeeper lose its appeal as well, the group could potentially take its case to the California Supreme Court, but it remains unknown whether that step will be exercised.

“I can’t really say at this point whether that would be worth it for either side, but we’ll see,” said George Torgun, managing attorney for SF Baykeeper.

Sand mining is conducted using a tugboat to position and maneuver a barge over a mining site. The barge is filled using a hydraulic suction dredge, and after loading the sand the tugboat takes the barge to an offloading facility.

SF Baykeeper maintains that beaches outside the Golden Gate Bridge, like Ocean Beach, are eroding in part because the less than 500,000 cubic yards of sand already removed each year exceeds the amount of sediment that flows from upstream sources in the Delta and Sierra mountains.

Allowing more than two million cubic yards of sand, the amount approved by the State Lands Commission in 2012, will cause further erosion that will threaten the Great Highway, possibly cause a major city sewer line to rupture, and wash away habitats for shorebirds, according to SF Baykeeper.

“The sand that is taken out is not being replenished, it’s just gone from the system,” Torgun said. “It’s exacerbating coastal erosion issues, [and it’s] more important to have that buildup for the shoreline in the face of sea level rise.”

Such levels of sand mining can also disrupt the Bay’s ecosystem, the environmental group says, by impacting bottom-dwelling invertebrates and shellfish like Dungeness crab and sturgeon.

In a court filing, the State Lands Commission wrote that it spent nearly six years reviewing the potential environmental impacts before approving the sand mining project and determined it will not further erode coastal beaches or significantly affect wildlife.

The Lands Commission further argued that if the leases were not approved to mine for sand in the Bay, sand would have had to be transported from quarries as far north as Canada, leading to possibly greater environmental consequences.

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