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Temporary sand berms intended to prevent coastal flooding are being removed in Ventura County

A Ventura County Fire Department bulldozer helps knocks down some temporary sand berms on Ventura County's beaches. The berms were created in December to prevent coastal flooding during storms.
Lance Orozco
A Ventura County Fire Department bulldozer helps knocks down temporary sand berms on some Ventura County's beaches.

The timing of the removal project is intended to restore beaches in time for breeding season for some endangered birds which nest in the sand.

Brad Melvin is sipping a cup of coffee as he watches some giant bulldozers at work just yards from his beachfront patio next to Ventura's Pierpont Beach. They are knocking down some giant sand berms in front of his home. Melvin was glad when the emergency berms were built by the Ventura County Fire Department on some Ventura and Oxnard beaches in December, to protect homes from major storms and high surf.

"It was a good thing. It protected us. I'm very pleased the Fire Department did it for us," said Melvin. "We did have a breach, as the surge came over into my backyard in December. Then the next day, they put the berm up, and I had no worries after that. It totally disrupted my view, but that's a small price for the protection having all of your stuff ruined."

The giant sand berms went up along parts of the Ventura County coastline after a rogue wave swept across part of Pierpont Beach. At South Seward Avenue, it knocked down and injuring several people, and damaged a beachfront motel. Video of the wave went viral, making international news in newscasts.

"The berms on the coast are just shy of three miles in total in Ventura and Oxnard,"
said Heather Sumagaysay, who is the Public Information Officer for the City of Ventura. "The sand berms were constructed very quickly."


The berms apparently did what they were intended to do, because there have been no issues with ocean flooding at the beaches since they were installed.

They were always supposed to be temporary. But, the reason the berms are coming down this week is due to a tiny endangered species of bird which uses parts of the county’s beaches for nesting.

"The snowy plover is a tiny little shorebird that forages and nests on a beach much like this one in Ventura," said Cate Wilson, who is a Senior Parks and Recreation Specialist with the California State Parks Department. She's sanding on the edge of Pierpont Beach. "Unfortunately, there's only about 2,000 of their species left on the Pacific Coast."

She talks about where the Snowy Plovers nest in Ventura County.

"San Buenaventura State Beach, McGrath State Beach, Mandalay...both the state and the city of Oxnard side...and Ormond Beach are all very popular nesting locations for the snowy plover," said Wilson. "That's just about it as far as the county goes."

They also nest on some isolated central Santa Barbara County beaches. Because of the way they nest, they need special protection.

"They nest on the beach, "said Wilson. "They make what is called a scrape, which is a very tiny indentation, and maybe they'll put a couple of sticks around it, and lay their eggs directly in the sand."

So, it was important to do the work to get the berms removed before their nesting season, which begins later this month. Wilson says it’s critical that they aren’t disturbed while nesting. Even a dog walking up to their nest can mean they won’t return, because they can detect the scent.

The goal is to remove the berms by the end of this week.

Melvin said he’s grateful they had the berms for the last two months, but it now thrilled the one in front of his home is gone.

"Now that I've got my view backed, I am really stoked. The big waves are gone, so it's wonderful to have it back," said Melvin.

So, it’s been a balancing act this winter. Public safety was the key priority along the coast as the big storms hit. And, now, with that threat easing, it’s conservation’s turn to take center stage.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.