Seaside is receiving some help from a local task force to keep its dunes healthy and safe.
The City Council approved an agreement with the Columbia River Estuary Study Taskforce to update the city’s foredune management plan last month. The Astoria-based task force is a community organization that specializes in environmental and coastal planning.
The update could lead to more trees, plantings and dune-grading activities. Many of these are prohibited on Seaside beaches because of state guidelines.
To conform with state rules, the city needs to update its plan and seek an exception to the statewide planning goal dealing with dunes and beaches, known as Goal 18. The exception — which allowed property owners in different areas along the beach to grade their sections below goal limits — expired several years ago, according to Planning Director Kevin Cupples.
The task force will provide its services for approximately $12,100, or a rate of $60 per hour. Additionally, the city plans to contract with an expert in coastal geology to provide technical oversight.
The city is considering amendments to provide for dune grading in selected areas to depths between the base flood elevation and four feet above base flood elevation. Currently, any dune grading below four feet above the base flood elevation requires the city to obtain an exception to Goal 18, according to Cupples.
In the past, the city had an exception to Goal 18 to grade the dunes from Broadway to north of 12th Avenue. At that time, a group of property owners along the Prom from about Third to 10th avenues received approval to grade the dunes near their homes and businesses. They continued to do maintenance grading after the initial project.
“Now we’re to a point where trying to continue maintenance grading is violating the goal, so we’ve got to reauthorize the exception or you can’t grade down to the levels that you were allowed to before,” Cupples explained.
The Land Conservation and Development Commission will have to approve the exception. The statewide planning goal set the level at four feet above the base flood elevation as “a safety measure,” Cupples said. “It’s a matter of protecting the inland areas from potential flooding.”
In order to get an exception approved, the city needs to justify allowing grading below that level and demonstrate that it won’t have a negative affect on safety in those areas.
What Cupples believes will help is that portions of the Seaside beach are underlaid by cobblestone, which is added protection.
“Even if you eroded part of your sand away, you still have cobble beach protection, which tends to break up waves pretty well,” Cupples said.
The city wants the management plan amendments to make grading elevations “dynamic,” so they respond to future changes in the base flood elevation. For instance, if the base flood elevation is lowered in the future, the city’s allowed grading elevation would lower automatically to allow for enhanced grading activities, Cupples said. Likewise, if the base flood elevation is heightened, the allowed grading elevations also would heighten, ensuring “the allowed grading elevations would not compromise flood hazard protection,” according to a memorandum presented at the City Council meeting.
Rather than including specific grading depths in the plan and exception based on the current levels, Cupples said, “You want to be able to say, ‘No, if that level goes down, then the grading level will go down along with it.’”
The city plans to clarify what vegetation management options are allowed in different beach areas. Some vegetation management occurs in the southern region of the beach, but the plan did not anticipate the amount of tree growth in that area. The plan needs to specify that the city is “not trying to create an urban forest down there,” Cupples said. “It’s supposed to have kind of a semi-open look.”
With so many trees growing in the area, the dense vegetation offers an opportunity for people to camp overnight, which is against city ordinance and creates a potential fire risk.
Right now, the city allows certain actions.
“When there is an unhealthy spacing of trees, we’ve allowed it to be taken out, but it’s not well explained in the plan that you should be doing that,” Cupples said. “That’s what we want to be clarified.”
Kevin Cupples said the city’s Planning Department does not have the staff and resources needed to focus on the process of updating the foredune management plan, at this time. CREST is a council of local governments, of which Seaside is a part, that helps communities with land-use planning, Director Denise Lofman said.
She said it is important to work with the state during the process “to make sure whatever we are creating for Seaside can be approved at the state level, she said. “The state is really interested in making sure properties are protected in addition to dunes being able to be managed.”
Public hearings on the amendments will be June to August. Seaside City Council must approve the amendments before the updated plans and justifications are sent to the Land Conservation and Development Commission.