Repair work begins on crumbling Pacifica cliff

Eroding cliff causes mandatory evacuations in Pacifica

December 18, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
The race is on to stabilize the shoreline in Pacifica, before the waves destroy the 330 Esplanade Avenue apartment complex on the edge of the cliff.

Crews wanted to work until midnight on Friday night, but they had to shut everything down when the tide came in. Regardless, since 7 p.m. crews worked to lift boulders over the apartment complex and down onto the beach one by one.

Ealier on Friday, the giant crane was brought in to do the heavy lifting and big boulders were trucked in on Friday afternoon with the plan to have the rocks absorb the impact of ocean waves and keep the cliff from crumbling. Still, this is a methodical process that could take some time. It took the entire day just to assemble to crane.

Spectators have been awestruck given the task at hand.

Pacifica resident Gordon Miller said "I mean imagining a large boulder standing over that house. It's pretty wild. You don't see that every day."

For the next several days, the 240-foot crane will be placing boulders from the top of the cliff to the bottom. The crane operator can't see the beach below so two men, at the bottom of the cliff, are guiding him by radio.

Contractors said they are not sure how long this project will take. They said while things so far are going smoothly, they can only transport one rock at a time. That, however, is expected to change.

"We have two size rocks, a four ton and six ton. Some of the six tons are too big. So for right now we're not using them. We're down there breaking them up. We'll have a bigger crane coming tomorrow. We'll use them with the bigger crane," said Tony Fortunato, from Engineered Soil Repairs Inc.

As for neighbors, they are well aware they'll have to put up with the noise and inconvenience for the time being. Yet everyone ABC7 spoke with on Friday seems to be handling the situation well.

"I'm just glad they got everyone out okay before the apartments decided to fall into the ocean," said Pacifica resident Judy Ayala.

The work is scheduled to resume at 7 a.m. Saturday morning. The second crane is obviously good news, as it will speed things along quite a bit.

The boulders for this project are coming from a quarry in San Rafael. The Dutra Materials owner, Bill Dutra, said his business is only supposed to work Monday through Friday, but will be asking the County of Marin if they can continue to work under the emergency conditions. The job will take an estimated 100 trips to deliver enough boulders to complete the job. The goal is to build a rock wall like the ones protecting the cliffs below neighboring buildings.

Thursday 18 people living at 330 Esplanade were ordered to evacuate and the building was red-tagged. Still, the city says there is a chance tenants will be able to come back if they want to.

Building manager Randy Nelson says the owner gave everyone their deposits back and pro-rated rent back to Tuesday. Nelson called to check on everyone this morning.

"Everyone sounds pretty good. I've got a few people that it's still a little difficult -- it's the holidays and all of that -- but overall, I think everyone's handling it well," said Nelson.

Millard Tong owns the two buildings next door. He put in rocks within the last year at a cost that is said to be in the millions.

"Because once these buildings go into the ocean, it will take the street with it and pretty soon all the infrastructure, and then the road and all these buildings will be affected also," said Tong.

Nelson says despite the hassle, he wouldn't live anywhere else. He said "It's worth it. I mean, today we've got seals and we've got surfers right off the view."

The city says that normally construction work is only allowed to go on between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., but this is an emergency situation. The contractor brought in giant floodlights to put out on the beach to work into the night and to try to get ahead of high tide on Saturday.


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