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Rep. Steel Questions U.S. Army Corps on Coastal Erosion

June 24, 2021

Questions come as Newport Beach prepares again for high tides, flooding

Washington, D.C. – Rep. Michelle Steel (CA-48) today questioned the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (“Army Corps”) Lieutenant General Scott Spellmon about the growing need for sand replenishment along the Orange County coastline. Rep. Steel raised the issue of erosion along the coastal communities due to years of neglect and abandonment from the federal government and the Army Corps.

“This issue has a long history, but the short version is this: more than 60 years ago, the construction off the coast by the federal government narrowed our beaches, and in the time since, the coastline has eroded,” Rep. Steel said. “Erosion is a major safety issue, not to mention it’s hurting our wildlife and our Orange County ecosystem. The Army Corps started fixing this damage by adding sand back to our beaches, but they stopped funding the project in 2000. My constituents feel abandoned by the Army Corps. Everyday this project goes unfinished, the taxpayers of Orange County are left on the hook to pay more and are living with a higher risk of a natural disaster causing major destruction and loss of life.”

“Are you concerned with the heightened risk of safety issues including loss of life and cost to municipalities if these floods continue?” Rep. Steel asked Lieutenant General Spellmon.

This line of questioning comes as Newport Beach, CA prepares for more possible flooding this week. In 2020, high tide caused flooding caused major damage to homes and businesses along the Balboa Peninsula. Officials had to rescue more than 100 people.

“We see this coastal erosion across the nation,” Lieutenant General Spellmon said. “The backlog for the Corps’ operation and maintenance program today is about $4.25 billion dollars. We’re going to continue to make our best recommendations to the Secretary to get after these issues, certainly life safety is the first priority, the first criteria we use when we rack and stack these proposals.”

You can watch the exchange here.


Last month, Rep. Steel joined Huntington Beach Environmental Services Manager Jim Merid and Surfside Storm Water Protection District President Victor Kriss in an OpEd for the OC Register about the need to address the sand erosion on the Orange County coastline. Rep. Steel is working with local stakeholders, like Huntington Beach and other districts, to bring more attention to this growing problem.


The erosion on Orange County’s beaches can be traced back to federal projects in the 1940s. The federal government widened Anaheim Bay and constructed breakwaters and jetties to service the new military bases that opened to boost military efforts for the U.S. Pacific Fleet. The USACE also created flood control projects along three local rivers, and breakwaters were constructed to create and protect the Los Angeles/Long Beach harbor. This new construction created narrowed beaches up and down the coastline that were now susceptible to extreme erosion.

The USACE and the federal government, realizing the damage that had been caused, took steps to repair the issue. The project was referred to as the “San Gabriel to Newport Bay Beach Renourishment Project (Surfside-Sunset),” and today it’s the Surfside-Sunset & Newport Beach Replenishment Project (Stage 13). The repair project, done in increments, began with in 1964 and saw eight more project stages through 1990. The project had a continued partnership between the federal government, which provided 67% of the financing, and local communities, which provided the remaining 33%. The local cost share was always covered when it was time for a new project stage.

Then in 1995, after planning Stage 10, the USACE abandoned their responsibilities to Orange County. In 2000, the USACE stated that it was no longer budgeting for any future stages in Orange County. This left the communities on the hook for the high costs and left the coast at a high risk for flooding and major storm damage.