A new plan to grade sand dunes next to Breakers Point could make the beach safer, restore views and improve quality of life, according to the many homeowners who came to last Thursday’s Planning Commission meeting.
About 20 people stood up to show support for the dune grading project, including a handful of residents who do not live in Breakers Point.
“It’s been tragic,” said Leland Larson, a Breakers Point resident. “It’s like some form of water torture to see the gradual erosion of views and the quality of life.”
Rather than move the unprecedented 73,400 cubic yards of sand originally proposed and then denied by the City Council in March, Breakers Point is asking for a conditional use permit to grade 13,700 cubic yards west of the development, south of West Fifth Street and north of Ecola Creek. The commission heard presentations and testimony on Thursday, July 23.
“There’s been a lot of sand accumulation going on,” Tom Horning, a geologist with Seaside’s Horning Geosciences said. About 75,000 cubic yards over a 15-year period with 25,000 cubic yards graded during that time, according to his report.
Normally the sand that is piling up to nearly 50-foot-tall dunes would blow into the forest, but it’s getting caught on European beach grass, he added.
The new Breakers Point proposal includes depositing graded material onto the middle-upper beach area to the west, to be reincorporated into the littoral drift, and the planting of native species to restore native dune prairie ecosystems.
A fence would be placed around some of the vegetation to deter elk, though Bruce Francis, property manager of the homeowners association, said that aspect may be negotiable.
Breakers Point staff and residents are calling the changes a restoration to “what once was.” The European grass was a man-made problem, they say, caused by the planting of the non-native grass in the area.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Newport office lent a letter of support for the project.
Commissioner Joseph Bernt asked how long the grading would last. Horning answered eight to 10 years.
Commission President Bob Lundy expressed concerns about sand blowing onto neighboring properties, but was told it would go into the forest.
Commissioner Lisa Kerr asked if the Breakers Point grading request would be one of several over the next few years to eventually complete the originally proposed 73,400 cubic yards.
If it works, Francis said, then Breakers Point would likely come back with subsequent requests to stop sand inundation.
“I’m anticipating success ... to be able to continue restoration,” he said.
Kerr requested a time line to judge that success. Francis said it would take about six months to a year.
Many who spoke at the five-hour meeting said they themselves or loved ones are unable to traverse the dunes anymore because they’re so high.
“What used to be a fairly leisurely stroll along the dunes, and then a gentle descent to the beach, is no longer possible for me,” Breakers Point resident Michael “Mick” French said. After recent knee surgery, that descent is now steep and difficult to navigate, he added.
Breakers Point attorney Dean Alterman said the growing dunes not only impact the development’s homeowners, but other Cannon Beach residents and visitors.
French said some in Cannon Beach feel the development should never have been built in the 1980s, but added that is an “old, invalid argument.” If taken seriously, he said, much of the city never should have been developed.
Because the city approved Breakers Point after a long development process, Albert Thompson, a Breakers Point resident said, it now has a moral obligation to the residents.
If sand blew onto the streets, he added, city staff would remove it. The same safety measures should be implemented at the beach, as well.
Other residents talked about beach hazards, including being unable to monitor their children at play and fears that a dune may one day bury a child.
The spectacular views Breakers Point provides were also mentioned numerous times, views some residents feel they have invested in and subsequently watched disappear.
Susan Neuwirth said she used to “laugh at the rich, spoiled people at Breakers Point because they wanted their stupid view,” but then she accepted a job as a secretary for the development’s office and saw the effect firsthand.
“It’s like being buried alive,” Neuwirth, who does not live in Breakers Point, said. “It’s literally like being in a coffin.”
If the “frakendunes” had been naturally caused, she said, she wouldn’t feel the same.
The original proposal for dune grading presented by Breakers Point homeowners last year faced significant opposition at previous Planning Commission and City Council meetings.
After the council’s denial, the homeowners association initiated a notice March 10 with the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals to appeal the decision. That appeal was dropped in May.
While speakers were predominantly in favor of the grading at Thursday’s meeting, three stood to object to any new dune grading plan.
Cannon Beach resident Jan Siebert-Wahrmund said she supports “all of us working together with a new sand management plan.”
Clay Newton, with Friends of the Dunes, said he’s not sure Breakers Point even has the right to grade with nearby state lands.
Newton said he “appreciates the idea” of returning native species to the land, but added he’s skeptical of the science behind the experimental project. Breakers Point should wait on the city to finalize its own dune grading plan, currently in draft form, and then work together, he said.
The scope of the city’s dune grading plan includes an Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries’ science background report that would provide research and data gathering from Cape Falcon to Tillamook Head, addressing dune growth, impacts of grading and disposal practices on beach contours, habitat, sand supply and more.
After delivery of the plan, an implementation strategy would then be drafted, followed by public hearings before adoption. City Planner Mark Barnes said that process would likely take a year.
Representatives of Breakers Point opposed the delay. “If the Friends do not believe in the science that’s being presented, I don’t know how in the world we’re going to work together,” Francis said.
He added that they’re trying to present the facts to make an informed decision, and that he wishes “there was some middle ground.”
The commission decided to continue the discussion to the next meeting, keeping written and oral testimony open until Aug. 27 as requested.