$2 million solution for Rockaway

The engineering design team hired by the city suggests building a concrete shaft wall, with a $2 million pricetag, to stabilize the eroding Rockaway Beach Road.

Robert Fernandez from BergerABAM engineering concluded that a concrete wall is the most cost effective and time sensitive approach to stopping the wave-caused erosion that has undercut the bluff some 15 to 20 feet in the last 13 years.

The race against time isn’t boding much confidence that the road can be saved or more damage prevented before a solution is found.

“We are bound to lose a lane, if not the whole road, in the time we are trying to execute this,” said Fernandez.

Beginning in 1997, after a landslide, the city began imposing emergency measures to try and preserve a 200-foot long portion of the two-lane coastal road that lies south of Bill Point and Creosote Way.

Using a federal grant the city hired a design team to try and tackle the many challenges facing the city in order to create a long-term solution. The proposed option will cost the city about $2 million, and two years of construction from the design and permitting to finish project.

Rockaway Beach Road winds next to the east-facing hillside that drops to the shoreline of the sound on the southeast portion of the island. Aspect Consulting warned the city in November, 2010 that part of the northbound roadway could crumble as early as this winter. With the weather slowly warming to spring the city looks to have avoided loss of the road during this wet season, but the Aspect memo said repairs need to happen in 2011 or at the very latest, before the 2011-2012 wet season begins.

In December the city placed a 12,000 pound weight limit on the roadway after rain caused a small landslide. The city’s publics works department has monitored the site since December whenever there is more than an inch of rain accumulated in a 24-hour period.

The city has studied and designed several solutions over the years, but according to Fernandez’s presentation, costs have continued to escalate while the cliff has continued to crumble. Using a $200,000 federal grant the city hired the BergerABAM consulting team to design a solution.

Fernandez suggested that the city’s best option is to drill a thick concrete shaft wall to protect the road. The project would require excavating a hole and using steel enforcement poles to create the wall. Fernandez said the further down the wall penetrates, the more stabilization the city can buy. He advised that the city may have to feed the bluff with soils from elsewhere in the long-term, as the waves will continue to erode up the wall.

He suggested that further stabilization options would include drilling tiebacks, or additional stabilization anchors, into the earth to support the wall, which would add to the stability, but could be costly.

Fernandez glossed over several other options, some of which were discussed in the past, but advised that the wall would be the easiest to permit and would be cost-effective and time sensitive.

The other three options Fernandez presented included some toe protection mitigation at the base of the cliff, but he rebuffed the options because of the permitting restrictions and environmental concerns. He said building a toe wall at the base would require continued maintenance as the waves would continue to cause erosion.

Building a bridge was an option discussed in the past, but at that time costs were estimated at $2 million, which was thought to be too cost prohibitive. Since the city has waited Fernandez thinks a bridge would be much more expensive and just the concrete wall alone will cost around $2 million, according to Interim City Manager Brenda Bauer.

Ross Widener from the environmental planning and permitting law firm Widener and Associates, said that because the city is using federal money they are forced to follow strict government regulations in finding their solution, which will restrict options.

“We are trapped because we are a public agency,” said  Bauer. “These are public funds and we must comply with rules that individuals don’t have to.”

Neighbors at the meeting expressed their growing concerns.

Bill Point resident Paula Fernandez said she questions how closely the city is restricting trucks from passing over the weight-limited area.

“I hear and I see the view of the roadway and there are big trucks going down that road all the time,” said Fernandez. “This afternoon specifically.”

John Green said he is concerned about public safety and questions whether the stability of the road should trigger an immediate closure of one or both lanes.

Public Works Director Lance Newkirk said that his department hasn’t found any evidence that the northbound lanes need to be closed immediately.

Another resident was concerned that if the city chooses the cement wall option then in another 15 years the cliff will erode and just a vertical concrete wall, with no sand or beach, will be left in its place.

Where the money will come from to pay for such a major project is still up in the air. COBI was given a federal grant of $200,000, plus matching city funds of $27,000, which was used to hire the engineer to come up with a construction plan. The remaining funds will also be spent on environmental reviews, permits and bid development. According to Newkirk, $22,000 in local funds street funds are dedicated to the pre-construction phase of the project.

The Rockaway Beach Road Stabilization project is at the top of the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council (KRCC) contingency project list. The projects on this list are eligible to receive Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Surface Transportation Program (STP) funds that are unused within the four county Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) region. The region is composed of King, Pierce, Snohomish and Kitsap counties. According to city staff, PSRC has indicated to KRCC staff that approximately $750k is projected to be available to Kitsap County for its contingency projects. KRCC will know the actual amount to be made available within the next couple of months.

How much of the funding the city will actually receive remains to be seen.

Thus far the city has already spent an estimated $100,000 to $125,000 on geotechnical studies beginning in 1997 with a report from the Associated Earth Sciences, which was updated in 2006 by Aspect Consulting. Aspect Consulting also provided additional geotechnical updates in November and December 2010.  Public Work Operations and Maintenance staff moved the driving lane inland and added traffic barriers after additional bank erosion occurred during the winter months of 2006-2007, and again adjusted the jersey barriers further inland this winter after additional erosion.

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