Solution debated for eroding cliff 

One of the year’s highest tides combined with a hefty swell to take a large bite out of Great Highway late last week, a collapse that city officials say shows exactly how important and urgent it is to build a rock wall on Ocean Beach.

Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors is expected to extend an emergency order allowing the Department of Public Works to hire a contractor to build a lengthy rock revetment at the foot of the bluff to protect it from further erosion.

Supervisors also may consider a resolution asking Public Works to limit the size of the wall, to use some of the existing rocks on the beach in the construction and to remove the wall in the future, when it’s safe to do so.

The large storms last month caused the speedy erosion of the bluff along Great Highway south of Sloat Boulevard. As erosion pushed the cliff edge closer and closer to the road, officials began worrying about a 14-foot raw-sewage tunnel that sits deep under the road, at about sea level. If the bluffs erode enough, the tunnel could be exposed and breached, causing an environmental catastrophe on Ocean Beach.

A number of local environmentalists and beach advocates have opposed the rock revetment because the structures decrease the health of the beach, limit access to it, cause safety hazards for surfers, damage wildlife habitat and cause further erosion in the long run. Some of the current problematic erosion may be traceable to the rock walls installed in the 1990s just to the north, beach advocates claim.

A week ago Tuesday, supervisors voted to allow Public Works to move forward with its plan for the time being, but required the agency to return with an update and more information.

In the meantime, the Pacific Ocean continued to pound the crumbling cliff. At the beginning of the week, the guardrail had fallen down, and by the end of the week, the waves had eaten about 8 feet of the road away in one section.

On Friday, leaders from several government entities met with environmental groups to talk about options to save the sewage tunnel — and the beach. Save the Waves Executive Director Dean LaTourrette said his organization is drafting a resolution it hopes supervisors will consider that would require Public Works to think about moving some of the rock that has been placed elsewhere on the beach in decades past to build the new wall.

“We acknowledge that this is an urgent situation and we are by no means saying don’t address it,” LaTourette said. “At this point, we’re just trying to minimize the damage.”

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Katie Worth

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