West Trail Living Shoreline

Hikers travel along the west shoreline access path at Pillar Point Harbor earlier this year. Plans are underway to better protect the land from erosion. Adam Pardee / Reivew

Since 1994, a 300-foot-long stretch of the West Trail, which provides beach access to Pillar Point, has substantially eroded and needed emergency repairs, according to a report from the San Mateo County Harbor District. Now the Harbor District is doing something about it.

At last month’s board meeting, the Harbor District accepted a bid from Michael Roberts Construction Inc. to reconfigure the shoreline for just over $2 million. In anticipation of higher costs, the board voted to approve spending an additional 10 percent as a contingency plan. Because the development is part of the district’s Capital Improvement Program, the funds will come from the agency’s working capital.

The West Trail Shoreline Protection project calls for the development of a “living shoreline” along the beach. This strategy is meant to provide a more natural ecological solution to erosion and flooding by bringing in native vegetation that blends with the environment and has minimal hard armoring. Experts say living shorelines provide community and environmental benefits, such as creating a beach for recreation and habitat for wildlife. The Harbor District opted for a living shoreline instead of a seawall because of the high costs of construction and the possibility of causing erosion elsewhere.

The Harbor District’s plans detail an elevated sand dune next to the trail that will be built from a rocky substance called cobble berm, also known as a dynamic revetment, which is designed to dispel wave energy. The beach would also have two submerged rock fingers extending perpendicular from the beach to distribute sand flowing throughout the targeted area.

“We hope with our repairs someone who has never been there can walk by and can’t even notice a repair was done,” Harbor District General Manager Jim Pruett said.

The Harbor District received two bids for the project when it opened applications on Aug. 10. It expects this plan to maintain public access to Pillar Point for at least 25 years with minimal maintenance and upgrade the existing stormwater system to remain functional for another 50 years.

“The overall project purpose is to provide multiple ecological and community benefits by implementing a nature-based shoreline solution that increases the resilience of the West Trail from coastal erosion, extreme storms and sea-level rise,” said Harbor District Director of Operations John Moren.

Since the West Trail restoration effort began in 2015, the district has spent nearly $1.2 million on design and permitting. Surveys had to be done for eelgrass impacts, bathymetry issues and stormwater drainage options. Moren said the district hadn’t gotten any grant funding to cover costs, though it’s still working with its grant-writing firm California Consulting.

Of the Harbor Districts’s 10 grant proposals for Capital Improvement Plan projects since February 2020, six have been denied, according to a monthly report from the district. Two of the denials, a California Resilience Challenge grant worth $181,500 and a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant worth $1 million, were for the West Trail project.

At the Harbor District meeting last month, a question was raised about the winning bidder’s experience with creating a living shoreline. Because the living shoreline protection projects are a relatively new concept to the West Coast, Moren said none of the bidders had experience building one.

But Moren said Michael Roberts Construction Inc. was properly vetted and had good standing from similar shoreline protection projects.

“I have complete faith in the consultants that we’re using,” Commissioner Ed Larenas said. He noted past work from the district’s consulting firm, Environmental Science Associates. “The design and engineering aspects of this, I have full confidence in what we’re about to do.”

August Howell is a staff writer for the Review covering city government and public safety. Previously, he was the Review’s community, arts and sports reporter. He studied journalism at the University of Oregon.

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