Berms help protect beaches

On Tuesday, Sept. 29, I was at Bishop’s Beach for the high tide of 22.9 feet, the second highest tide this year.  By the time I got there all the the berm area to the east where cars have been driving was covered with water.  The waves were extremely high because the wind was blowing toward shore — magnificent, powerful waves, but destructive to the existing beach structures.

I watched (and documented with photos) as the waves and incoming water breached what remained of the berm area — the innermost vegetated area with wood and other debris — just a short distance east from the parking lot.  The waves came in and the water flowed on through and directly into the Slough there.

 Many people who have studied beaches and berms have said that all the berm area below Beluga Slough is critical to protect the Slough itself and what is above it: the water treatment facility, the road and the Beluga Lake area. Berms are physical barriers to storm surges but are only strong enough if they are non-compacted, vegetated and have a build up of logs and other debris as part of their structure.

The city of Homer has thus far denied that those berms are “storm berms” and thus should be protected by existing Ordinance (19.16.030c). In recent years so many people have driven out there that it has become a road instead of the berm that it is. This area was compacted and vegetation did not have any chance to grow. The berm became weakened. The city has also ignored enforcing the rule that states that, although gathering wood in the intertidal area is OK, 

OK, one may not remove wood from storm berms (Ordinance 19.12.090).  

Many people cut wood from these berm areas without any apparent personal consequences. So less wood remained to help secure the upper areas of the berm; the strengthening effect the wood should have provided did not exist because the wood was gone. 

 As I was standing there watching the huge waves crashing and the powerful surges of water entering the slough unimpeded, I wished that people who could make decisions to protect this area were watching this also.  As they stood there, they should have been concerned about what is above the Slough (the water treatment plant, the road, the Lake and surrounding area). 

At some point people need to see that these are in jeopardy if the berms are not intact and healthy.  But to be healthy, berms must not be compacted, vegetation must be encouraged to grow back (which it would without vehicle traffic), and wood must be allowed to accumulate naturally to work into the berm structure.  The city can make all this happen by banning vehicle traffic to the east of the parking lot at Bishop’s Beach.

 Our next big storm that coincides with an extreme high tide may not be so kind and forgiving as this one.  It is likely in our future that there could be a “100-year storm” which could take the whole thing out unless we restore those berms. Sea levels are rising and storms are getting worse worldwide. I have been concerned about the Slough and berms there for quite a while, but witnessing this storm was a shock. The city needs to close this part of the beach to driving, allow berms to revegetate and prohibit cutting wood before it is too late.

Lani Raymond