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a herd of elk ford Ecola Creek in front of the dune and Breakers Point Condominiums


What's Next for Ecola Creek?

Surfrider’s involvement with Ecola Creek and its estuary has been a long and complicated one, but we are now working to address the erosion issues that have plagued the north bank of the creek for years.  Thanks to FEMA funding, we are now working with community partners to explore alternatives to traditional shoreline armoring that better represent our goals of strengthening coastal resilience and improving community access.

In 2020, Surfrider opposed a permit for a massive sheet pile wall adjacent to the Ecola Creek estuary at the Breakers Point Condominiums.  While we don’t believe a hardened structure is the answer- and the City of Cannon Beach agrees, based on their denial of the permit- Surfrider, along with homeowners, the City, the Planning Commission, and others have identified the need for a long-term solution to the ongoing erosion of the creek bank. 

53815679686_7e65aa6af3_kLooking north to Chapman Point

This area has an important beach access for the neighborhood surrounding Les Shirley Park, and provides access to Chapman Point, a newly designated and protected Rocky Habitat Site.  Continued erosion of the bank represents a threat to the Breakers Point Condominium Development, neighboring houses, a city road, and a decommissioned gas line.  According to Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, the agency which manages the shoreline and issues permits, Breakers Point is not eligible for rip rap.  As sea levels continue to rise and storm events become more severe due to climate change, the risk of inaction here would be extremely impactful, and we now have the opportunity to explore an alternative to the status quo of rip rap and seawalls.

While nature-based solutions to shoreline erosion were not thought to be possible on the West Coast, we have now seen incredible success stories.  While we may not always like to admit it as Oregonians, California’s coast is more similar to ours than it is different.  The entire West Coast experiences powerful tidal and wave dynamics, similar erosional challenges, and intense wave power.  To see how we might implement something in Oregon, we can look to Surfrider’s success at Surfer’s Point.  

This well-loved surf break in Ventura, California faced similar erosion issues and vulnerable infrastructure.  Rather than install another seawall and destroy the beach and surf break, Surfrider successfully advocated for nature-based solutions that would enhance coastal resilience.  Through advocacy, community engagement, and collaboration with stakeholders, Phase I began in 2011 with relocation of a bike path and parking lot to make way for a living shoreline, complete with sand dunes and native plants, and a buried cobble berm designed to preserve the rivermouth surf break and enhance resiliency of the beach.  Since then, wildlife has returned to the area, access has improved, and the more resilient beach has stood up to storms made more intense by climate change.  

Surfers Point Before - AfterSurfer's point before and after Phase I

Projects like this are innovative and cutting-edge, while simultaneously returning our coastlines to a more natural state, and can challenge how we as humans relate to the coast, and to the powerful forces of nature more broadly.  Surfrider strives to be known as an organization dedicated to the preservation of our wild coastlines and public beaches in Oregon, and as such, we’re opposed to erosion ‘solutions' that degrade the public resource.  We will always be on the side of the community, and working to preserve access and create more resilient coastlines and communities.  Coupling the Ecola Creek issue with the other erosion issues in Cannon Beach (one of the most heavily armored sections of coastline in the state), it’s indicative of a deeper issue with the way our shoreline is viewed and managed.  Looking into the future, we need to take action to make sure Cannon Beach, and beaches all over Oregon, can continue to look and function the way we want them to. 

Over the last year, we have been working to find a solution to the erosion at Ecola Creek, and have secured funding to accomplish this.  We are excited to see what a nature-based solution could look like in this area, and believe this work should be guided by a set of core values: keeping Oregon’s beaches free and publicly accessible, and opposing development that threatens that birthright for future generations; thoughtfully and collaboratively improving resilience of our coastal communities and making space for community input; working together with our partners to implement and monitor shoreline solutions that nourish the beach; and last but not least, educating our neighbors about the harmful effects of hardened shorelines, and dreaming about what the alternatives could be.  

53815905223_4f172d2c49_hRendering of creek and ocean dynamics by Integral Consulting Inc

We don’t have to live in a world that prioritizes short-term protection over long-term access.  In fact, during a workshop in Cannon Beach with Carl Hendrickson, Sea Level Rise Adaptation Fellow with the Department of Land Conservation and Development, we heard community input that prioritized beach access for all, conserving a beautiful and natural landscape, and one comment that “beach access is only important if there is a beach,” highlighting the importance of conserving this public resource.  Not only does the disappearance of the beach and other natural coastal assets impact residents, who were drawn to the coast for those things, but it also impacts tourism.  Whether we like it or not, our small coastal communities rely on tourism dollars.  We also heard from folks who wished to prioritize creating a more resilient shoreline, and wanted to explore alternatives to armoring.  We agree!

The City of Cannon Beach is certainly no stranger to progressive and “experimental” planning projects- just look at their stormwater discharge system which employs mycofiltration technology (filtering stormwater using fungi), their 16-acre wetland-based wastewater treatment plant, or their purchase of the Ecola Creek watershed which protected the town’s drinking water along with salmon habitat and old-growth rainforest .  We hope this project can be another example of their forward-thinking spirit and commitment to doing what’s right for their community, the land, and the ocean.