Yes, higher sea levels contributed to the erosion of the Surfers Point bikeway and parking lot.

But man-made constructs possibly played a more significant role, which led to the $3.5 million “managed retreat” project currently underway.

While construction workers tear apart the 120-space parking lot on Shoreline Drive, setting it back up to 100 feet and replacing it with 22-tons of cobble for erosion protection, miles up the Ventura River, the Matilija Dam has 2 million cubic yards of fine sediment trapped behind its walls. Regardless of how this sediment should be released, local experts suggest that the sediment may have provided, and still would provide, some adequate protection against erosion.

“You heal the beach by healing the watershed, by restoring natural sediment supply,” said Paul Jenkin, Surfrider Foundation Ventura Chapter environmental director. Going forward, Jenkin said “removing the dam is complimentary in this retreat.”

Rick Raives, Ventura’s public works director, said that removing or notching the dam would naturally provide sediment that would nourish the beach, but the managed retreat plan underway will be solid with or without the fines.

“We’re prepared to make this work with or without the removal of the dam,” said Raives.

After years of contentious debate concerning the dam’s fine sediment disposal, stakeholders are currently involved in a mediation process to hopefully come to terms about the dam’s removal and where to dispose its sediments.

“I don’t know where they’re going to go or end up, but right now there in the stage of forming a group and addressing the problems that need to get solved,” said Mary Selkirk, a senior mediator for Center for Collaborative Policy in Sacramento, who is heading the four-session facilitating process.

Studies show that sea levels in the past century have risen about eight inches, and predictions for the next century are all over the charts, ranging anywhere from two- to 17-feet. Yet, the original 1989 placement of the bikeway and parking lot was much too close to the wave-line, not allowing for seasonal change, critics have said. By 1992, heavy erosion had so damaged the bike path that it had to be diverted back into the parking lot.

During the public comment period of the 1989 plan, Jenkin recalled a crowd of beachgoers objecting to the plan, knowing it would be damaged ultimately.

“It was too close to the edge,” Jenkin said. “It was really inviting disaster by not establishing adequate setback from a shoreline that moves back and forth on seasonal basis.”

In 1995, working groups, such as the Surfrider Foundation, collaborated with state agencies and State parks to create a protection plan, which is now finally underway after receiving most of the funding from a California Coastal

Conservancy grant and a federal transportation initiative.

The new project, bringing asphalt back about 65 feet, has been lauded by for its managed retreat efforts, instead of fortifying the coastline with a barrier, such as a sea wall, which arguably only provides short term protection while altering the surf.

“Arguably we haven’t seen much sea level rise yet from global warming,” said Raives. “But we took global warming and sea level in consideration with the design.”

Raives said that placing of the buried cobble is about two-thirds completed, and he expects the project to be finished by mid-April.