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Sand buildup, erosion on Great Highway in San Francisco made worse by climate change; crews begin distribution project

PIX Now - Morning Edition 6/18/24
PIX Now - Morning Edition 6/18/24 10:29

In its perennial effort to delay the progression of sand onto the northern length of the Great Highway and to keep it where it is needed, crews from San Francisco's Public Works will begin a sand distribution project Monday.

Using front-end loaders and backhoes, 30,000 cubic yards of sand will be moved over the next two weeks.

Sporadic closures of the Great Highway due to the buildup of windblown sand on the roadway normally occur every year during the winter and spring months. In recent years, however, sand buildup has worsened due to climate change.

Annual shoveling on the upper Great Highway must be done during the small window of time so as not to disturb the Western Snowy Plover, a small shorebird protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The plovers can be found at Ocean Beach about 10 months out of the year but take off in the spring to nest in other areas and inland salt flats, leaving the way clear for crews to remove sand at the seawall between Noriega and Santiago streets.

The project also will address the excessive accumulation of sand at Judah Street and other hard-hit areas. The aim is to reduce the height and width of the dunes and move sand toward the ocean.

During the operation, southbound traffic lanes on the Great Highway between Sloat Boulevard and Lincoln Way will remain closed to vehicles. People who walk and bike are encouraged to shift their activities to the northbound lanes while crews are on the job, weekdays, from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.

In contrast to the northern stretch, the span of the Great Highway that lies south of Sloat Boulevard has suffered from too little sand. In recent years, erosion has eaten away at the road and threatened a water treatment plant. This condition has propelled the city to design the Ocean Beach Climate Adaptation Plan.

According to Nancy Crowley, spokesperson for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, they are partnering with the city's Recreation & Parks Department, Public Works, Municipal Transportation Agency, and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. 

San Francisco's first major long-term climate change adaptation project is designed to combat shoreline erosion and sea level while increasing public access.

The plan elements include removing the southern threatened stretch of the highway, constructing a buried seawall to protect a recycled water facility and a wastewater treatment plant, and building a multi-use public trail with elevated ocean views. Great Highway traffic will be rerouted between Sloat Boulevard and Skyline Drive away from the narrowest part of the beach.

The project's environmental report was certified in October 2023, and the project team is currently engaged with the California Coastal Commission on refining details for permits. Construction of the south ocean beach plan is scheduled to begin in late 2025.

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