Story last updated at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, June 20, 2002

Seawall plan offers chance to study erosion
Sometimes delay is a good thing.

For homeowners looking over the Ocean Drive Loop bluff and watching dirt crumble and trees topple over near their homes, that may be small comfort, but seawalls are not something to be built without careful consideration.

The natural forces that make and break beaches and coastal bluffs are powerful and not always completely understood.

Now, after months of delay it seems like worries of several environmental agencies and officials will be addressed - at least in the sense that their fears of negative effects will be monitored for five years after the $1 million wall is built.

In many ways beaches are living things. The waves, wind and tides break down dirt and rock from shorelines and grind up shells to deposit sand on what for a time becomes a beach. But those forces of nature are unforgiving. Beaches come and go. They move elsewhere and the sea keeps marching inland while shifting sands to another location.

All of which are reasons that many geologists and experts in coastal erosion worldwide have often warned against building any kind of seawalls. Some are unrelenting in their advice to coastal regulators not to allow homes to be built on the coast.

Coincidentally, a marine geologist from the U.S. Geological Survey will be discussing the forces of coastal change during a noon public presentation today at the Kachemak Bay Reserve offices on Kachemak Drive.

Given the view and pleasure that overlooking the sea, or in our case, mountain-rimmed Kachemak Bay, it is understandable why many people want to take their chances and build homes on the bluff. But are the odds worth it? And is it worth it to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to reinforce the bluff to keep homes from tumbling down it? Those questions will continue to be argued.

What is clearly worth it is to keep a close eye on how the planned 2,000-foot fiberglass sheet wall, backed by soils dredged from the bay, will affect the way erosion moves sediment elsewhere once the wall is in place.

Perhaps the city's engineers will be right and the wall will have little effect other than the intended protection of the homes. Perhaps the worries of scientists with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be borne out and shifting waters will eat away at the Homer Spit or clog up crucial habitats for rare sea birds.

Time will tell.

Early this year, the city thought the project didn't even need a permit because most of the wall would be above all but the highest tides and storm waves. The Public Works Department followed procedures and expected a relatively routine approval of the plan. The last-minute interest by several state and federal agencies took city officials by surprise. Although better coordination among the regulatory agencies might have eased the confusion, the interest shouldn't have been a surprise.

There are many factors to consider, especially in such a sensitive area as Kachemak Bay.

Taking some time to consider how the works of man will be treated by the forces of nature is always a wise idea - even when as in this case, it will be mostly a look back, rather than ahead.