San Clemente Stabilization Project to Entail San Luis Rey River Habitat Restoration

Written by Kyra Senese, Managing Editor
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Repairs have been ongoing on OCTA’s shore line despite heavy rains.

The railroad stabilization project planned on a coastal hillside in San Clemente will involve the preservation of native habitat near the San Luis Rey River in Oceanside.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has requested that the Orange County Transportation Authority acquire credit for half an acre in the San Luis Rey Mitigation Bank, where the river’s floodplain is being restored to its natural state, as reported by The San Diego Union-Tribune.

More than 10 years ago, Wildlands Inc. and the Wildlife Heritage Foundation purchased approximately 60 acres for the mitigation bank in order to establish off-site credits for public and private projects that are required to pay for construction on natural lands. According to Brian Monaghan of Wildlands Inc., about 14 acres remain available as unsold credits.

“We’re an entrepreneurial group that goes out and establishes these preserves,” Monaghan said. “It was once a tomato field that we bought and moved a bunch of dirt around … to restore it to river level and the floodplain.”

The company planted native trees to provide habitat for endangered or threatened species such as the southwestern willow flycatcher and the least Bell’s vireo, the report said. The native habitat also aids in the control of storm water runoff and the prevention of downstream flooding.

According to Monaghan, a one-acre credit costs $650,000. The mitigation bank consists of land on both sides of the river in eastern Oceanside, near the unincorporated community of Bonsall.

The total mitigation costs for the transportation authority’s stabilization project are currently unknown, according to an update from CEO Darrell Johnson presented to the board of directors on March 27.

The Corps of Engineers required the mitigation because portions of the work were completed below the mean high-tide line, including the placing of boulders on the beach to minimize the escalating erosion caused by waves and high tides, the report said.

“OCTA is working with several agencies, including the California Coastal Commission and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to determine mitigation costs for the work OCTA is leading to stabilize the rail line,” spokesman Eric Carpenter told the Union-Tribune. “Because of the riprap placed on the coastal side, OCTA is required to purchase mitigation credits.”

The transportation authority will also be required to submit annual lease payments to the State Lands Commission for the use of land below the high-tide level, which have yet to be set.

Johnson stated that the most recent estimate for the cost of completing the stabilization work is $13,700,600. 

Since September, when new movement was observed in the railroad tracks crossing a reoccurring landslide at San Clemente, daily passenger rail service between San Diego and Orange counties has been suspended. Weather has caused multiple delays in the stabilization work that began in October.

“Work is continuing to be impacted by incessant rainy weather resulting in ponding water and muddy conditions,” Johnson told the board. “Slope erosion and sluffing caused by upslope storm water runoff and slope saturation is requiring some re-work of a few concrete grade beam panels.”

Amtrak’s weekend service was reinstated in February after the tracks were deemed safe, and work continues on installing ground anchors drilled down into the bedrock to secure the slope, the report said.

According to the most recent estimates, weekday passenger service between the two counties will resume once the construction is complete in mid-April.

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