Great Highway poised for disaster

With the El Niño season looming, city officials are bracing themselves for another potential emergency along the Great Highway, where the crumbling bluffs have left the area in a precarious state.

“We might have to take some action but it will depend on the storm season,” said Christine Falvey, spokeswoman for the Department of Public Works.

Last December, officials declared an emergency after erosion caused alarm about the roadway as well as The City’s nearby wastewater pipe.

The declaration allowed crews to close the southbound lane of the Great Highway between Sloat Boulevard and state Highway 35 to realign the roadway farther away from the bluffs. They also created rock revetments where erosion was threatening surrounding facilities, including roads and trails.

Officials have yet to secure permits and money to address one of the most urgent areas which is situated adjacent to a 14-foot, 10 million-gallon wastewater pipe, said Frank Filice, manager of capital planning for the Department of Public Works.

It’s here that the bluffs have eroded 70 feet over the past decade, with the shoreline now just 30 feet from the waste water pipe, he said.

DPW has recommended to the California Coastal Commission building a buried wall along the shoreline to temporality stop the erosion in the most critical area.

But whatever DPW does, it’s only a short-term fix for a long-term problem, said Benjamin Grant, project manager for the San Francisco Urban and Planning Research Association. SPUR has secured $410,000 in grants for an Ocean Beach master plan that will create policies to address climate change at Ocean Beach and the eroding shoreline.

The first community meeting is scheduled for January. The master plan will be completed at the end of 2011.

“Everyone knows this going to continue to happen, but we do not have a policy framework in place so we are bouncing from emergency to emergency,” Grant said.

DPW has spent more than $1.4 million on road realignment and rock revetments to tackle the eroding shoreline. Bill McLaughlin, a member of the San Francisco Surfrider organization, said he’d like The City to consider relocating the endangered facilities, including the waste water pipe, farther from the shoreline.

“Give the beach space to erode naturally,” McLaughlin said. “And think about securing the infrastructure after moving it farther away from the shoreline.”

Keeping the ocean at bay

Money spent on erosion abatement:

$101,490 for project management
$223,270 for design and inspection of roadway
$1.3 million for rock revetment
$687,949 for realigning the roadway
$420,658 for slope stabilization

Source: Department of Public Works

esherbert@sfexaminer.com

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