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Time to Dredge Pillar Point Harbor And Give Back the Sand to Our Coastline

It’s not just about making the waves better for this surfer. It’s more about saving Half Moon Bay’s coastline from massive erosion.

The year was 1986, and I was a freshman at Half Moon Bay High School. 

I started surfing the year before in eighth grade, but at the high school there were many more surfers at a more diverse age group. As in many California coastal towns the quality of surfing athletes is very high, and Half Moon Bay was no exception. 

I hadn't met most of the best surfers in town yet and suddenly I was at the same school with many of them. 

The surfers at school would talk a lot about the waves: who got barreled, who hit the lip the hardest, where the parties were, and sometimes a local political issue that was bothering them. 

One fall morning, up on the deck before the 1st bell, the discussion was about the sand build-up inside Pillar Point Harbor and how it needed to be dredged out. I was barely within earshot of the conversation as I was a freshman and not allowed up on the deck. My first thought on the discussion I was straining to hear was, “Why do they care about that?” 

“Can you imagine how much better the waves would get if they would dredge the harbor?” one of the most respected surfers in Half Moon Bay commented. “The Jetty would A-frame like Ano and the rest of the beaches in the bay would get their sand back.”

The conversation was serious and many of the guys I looked up to were voicing their concerns and opinions on the situation. I was learning before school had even started.

The concern from these guys had me believing it would be happening soon. I, along with everyone else, always thought that dredging would eventually happen as evidence of its need are very strong and obvious. All someone has to do is take a close enough look at the situation and they can see for themselves. 

Stand at the breakwater where the outer wall meets Highway One and stand looking toward the ocean. Look on the harbor side (right) and you will see a massive sand trap with sand dunes over 20 feet high (from the top of the sand dunes to the waters edge; especially at low tide). 

Look to the south (left) past Surfer’s Beach and down the beach, and you will notice the massive erosion of the cliffs and the lack of sand on the beaches. 

This irresponsible lack of maintenance in Pillar Point Harbor has affected all of the beaches in the bay of Half Moon Bay and dredging would put the sand back where it belongs. 

Bob Battalio, principal engineer for PWA environmental ocean hydrology firm of San Francisco, has educated me on this issue and has been helping to find the best solutions. 

We have discussed many possible solutions together and after looking at this specific location at Surfer’s Beach he believes that dredging is the best answer. 

“The most efficient, economic, environmental thing to do in this situation is to dredge,” Bob explained to me a few years ago as he discussed and advised me on a number of other possible solutions.  “Dredging is the only thing that makes sense.”

I never figured it would be someone unofficial to push and to try and get this problem solved. I never figured that person, 20 years later, would be me. I always kept my eyes and ears open, listened and asked questions about the much needed dredging of our harbor. Nothing. Ten years later: nothing. Twenty years later: nothing.

Just about 20 years later, I was bartending at a local bar/restaurant and a San Mateo County Harbor Commissioner Sally Campbell came in to get some dinner. She sat right in front of me, and I waited till the right moment and I asked her about the current dredging situation here in Pillar Point Harbor.

“You care about that?” she asked surprised.

“Yes Ma’am, I do,” I replied, “and so do most of my friends.”

And that was the beginning of my political road in regards to dredging our harbor. By just looking at the situation with a naked eye one can see how many win-wins there are for dredging. 

Dredging will unload the piled-up sand out of the harbor and make navigation safe again for fisherman and boating inside the harbor.  By dredging and nourishing the beaches to the south the cliffs will become protected, Highway One will be protected, local businesses will be protected, threatened homes will be protected, our beaches will grow and come back for better recreation, the waves will come back as sand is what we need for good waves inside our bay. 

And get this: I reached out to the Audubon Society and they sent me a tip to look at how beach nourishment can help save the Snowy Plover. There have been multiple successful beach nourishment projects that have helped the comeback of the Snowy Plover.  That’s right, we will even be helping out an endangered species.  The Snowy Plovers, in the heart of the bay, need sand for its nesting purposes.  Please see Beneficial Uses For Dredged Material at http://el.erdc.usace.army.mil/dots/budm/budm.cfm.

Dredging our harbor is a win-win for so many different scenarios that I have a very hard time understanding why it’s been extremely difficult to get this project done. 

Before she passed away, Campbell got me working with the San Mateo County Harbor District on the dredge project they would very much like to see come to fruition as well. 

I have been to meetings and addressed the issue many times over that last six or seven years. 

In the upcoming months there will be some meetings on the issue as there has been some movement with the Army Corps of Engineers. The Army Corps has already admitted building a faulty breakwater due to increasing erosion. 

As a matter of fact, at the first meeting of the Surfer’s Beach Shoreline Improvement Working Group on November 10, 2009, John Dingler of the Army Corps of Engineers explained, “sand trapped inside would have moved along shore without the breakwater.” He then went on to explain, “prior to 1959 the natural conditions along the cliffs south of Surfer’s Beach had an erosion rate of three inches per year. After the construction of the outer breakwaters post 1961 the erosion rate increased to 80 inches a year.”

Let’s do the math. 50 years (1962-2012) multiplied by 80 inches a year equals 4,000 inches. Due to a faulty breakwater built by the Army Corps of Engineers, we have lost over 333 feet of coastline from El Granada to Miramar (it would only be 12.5 feet of erosion naturally).

I sure hope this is alarming to anyone reading this. 

Without the concerns of modern environmental ocean hydrology no one could forecast the current devastation and erosion of the coastline directly south of the breakwater.

Breakwaters, all over the world, have proven to be sand traps. As rivers flow sand to the coastline the currents running north to south deposit sand along beaches. This sand naturally protects the coastline including beaches, sensitive habitats, roads, man-made structures, etc. 

The resource we need to heal our coastline is a resource we have available to us: sand. It’s time to dredge the Pillar Point Harbor and nourish our beautiful bay.

Stay tuned on the dredging and beach nourishing issue of the Pillar Point Harbor and keep an eye out for my next article, where I will present many more facts and further clarification on this very important local issue.

Brian Overfelt is a local surfer and business owner. He currently owns and operates P as well as the . Overfelt is the director of photography for the Mavericks Invitational and many of his surfing photos as well as local and worldly landscape photos are on display at Princeton Yarns & Gallery inside Harbor Village. Please come visit the shop or check us out online at http://www.princetonyarns.com/ to see some photos or get the latest news on the dredge activity or Mavericks.

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