Public urged to stay a few feet away from the cliffsSEASIDE - A storm in early December washed away sand along the banks of the Necanicum River in Seaside, leaving the sewage treatment plant too close to the river for comfort, Public Works Director Neal Wallace said.

"During high surf, those waves come up and lap against this," Wallace said of the eroding cliffs. "It's going to be interesting

this winter seeing how we fare on high-surf days."

Seaside faced a similar problem during the winter of 1948-1949, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers solved it by building a rock wall to protect the plant, Wallace said. That wall has been buried by sand and vegetation, but three widely-spaced excavations found it was still intact.

"I don't have any reason not to have faith in what they did 55 years ago," Wallace said. "What they did looks pretty massive." He said the wall will protect the plant, no matter how much sand is washed away.

The plant was built in 1939 and rebuilt in 1986, Wallace said. It has to be close to flowing water.

A developer in the 1960s scraped close to a million cubic yards of sand off the beach and piled it north of the treatment plant, extending the land into the river. Wallace cannot understand what the city officials at the time were thinking to allow this, but it has benefited Seaside. The proposed housing development was never built, but a rock wall constructed on both sides of the manmade spit has protected the sewage plant for 40 years, Wallace said. However, most of those rocks have washed away.

Vegetation, often used to stabilize a slope because root systems hold the ground together, is no help, Wallace said. The river is washing away grass, blackberries and pine trees, some over 40 years old.

"The city would have to take some kind of immediate action if that thing does fail," Wallace said. But the river moves naturally from north to south over the course of time and is as far south as it has ever been. "It's starting to move back," he said.

Wallace urged the public to stay at least a few feet away from the cliffs, despite the fun of drawing on the sides and the inconvenience of circling around them.

"You don't want to see that give way with you standing on top," he said. Pieces six to eight feet long have broken off at times. Those could weigh as much as two tons, Wallace said. "We don't want to see that bank come down on anybody."