Dune grading rules recommended

Sand blows across a dune in Cannon Beach.

The planning commission has unanimously voted to recommend a new foredune management plan to the City Council.

The updated plan, approved Nov. 20, is the product of more than a year of work sessions and public testimony, guides how and where dunes can be graded for views, as well as how they should be monitored after the work is done.

The revision of the plan was in part prompted by requests made in recent years by residents to remove large amounts of sand, citing issues of sand inundating their property and lost ocean views.

An unprecedented request to remove 73,400 cubic yards in 2014 from a dune north of Ecola Creek made the city consider taking another look at the science and policies of sand removal that had not been updated since the late 1990s.

Substantial changes include allowing the use of native grasses in some areas to restabilize the dune after it has been graded and prohibiting all mowing and pruning of vegetation. Language requires permit holders to consider the impacts on clams and other shellfish when pushing sand out into the surf. Studies show native grasses tend to create a flatter dune — which would help with views — in comparison with European beach grass, which has been used since the 1950s and produces more vertical and stable dunes.

The commission also increased the dune height requirement to account for projected sea level rise. Currently, the city requires dunes be graded no lower than 4 feet above the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s 100-year base flood elevation recommendation, which adds up to between 27 and 29 feet.

The commission added an extra foot after learning FEMA does not account for climate change when calculating these guidelines, and based the change on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s estimate that sea level could rise by 1 ½ feet in the most extreme climate scenario by 2040.

But the commission recommended these changes with one significant condition: the City Council should question whether grading for views should be done at all.

“Dune grading has always kind of been this foregone conclusion,” commissioner Lisa Kerr said. “I’ve never been comfortable with this goal, and I feel like we’ve been just working around this for the past year.”

Commissioners have tangled with this idea for months, even considering at some points to recommend the issue be put out to a vote in a ballot measure to reach a conclusion.

Commissioner Joe Bernt joined Kerr in her concerns, saying he felt part of the reason it has taken more than a year to come up with a recommended plan stems from the commission’s base hesitancy about whether they support grading for views at all.

“We’ve been lobbied to death,” Bernt said, referring to Breakers Point residents in favor of dune grading. “And we still have never gotten to the main issue of this conflict.”

The condition, which was introduced at Tuesday’s meeting for the first time, would require a major change in the comprehensive plan if the City Council chooses to consider it.

It could come as a pleasant surprise for groups like Friends of the Dunes, who have long argued grading for views compromises a critical bulwark against storm-damage and damages plants and habitat. It could also come as a blow to the Breakers Point Homeowners Association — the area in Cannon Beach most disproportionately affected by sand accretion.

Dozens of homeowners testified for months to the planning commission about the effects of sand inundation, and how those who bought homes at Breakers Point were sold property under the idea code allowed the ability to maintain beach access and view.

Public hearings on the subject will be reopened when the City Council chooses to review the recommendation.

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