Oregon Creates New Unit Of Government Just To Control Sand

Nov 6, 2015

When the sand on the beach threatens to overrun your house and your driveway, long walks on the beach might not seem quite so romantic anymore. Some Oregon coastal communities want to form a new type of governmental agency just to deal with the problem of too much sand.

In Bayshore, Oregon, a row of houses sits about 500 feet inland from the Pacific Ocean. But from the shore you can only see the roofs of most of the houses because of the giant sand dunes that have formed in between here and the houses -- dunes that weren't there when this neighborhood was developed in the 1960s.

"It's been a real problem for a long time,” said Marcella Brodoway.

And she said it's not simply a problem of beachfront views disappearing behind a mountain of sand. Brodoway is president of the local homeowner's association. She said winter storms blow sand inland, piling it up to the eaves of some houses, covering driveways and even roads.

That's a concern for emergency responders. But Brodoway said no one here is surprised by any of this.

"They know it when they move there so it's not like they are tricked or anything,” Brodoway said. “It's obvious that there's a sand issue there."

Managing the sand

"The sand spit, like sand spits do, it wants to move,” the Lincoln County Planning Department’s Onno Husing said.

Bayshore is unincorporated so locals turn to the county when issues like this come up. And Husing has learned a lot about sand over the years.

"I've been called the Sandman, among other things,” he quipped.

Bayshore residents aren't always happy with the options Husing gives them. In the old days, local construction companies would gladly remove the sand to use as raw material in building projects. These days, a web of state and federal regulations govern sand management. So Husing said it isn't that no one knows how to get rid of the stuff.

"Sand is a very nice medium to move around,” he explained. “You get a big couple pieces of equipment, you can move a lot of sand very quickly."

And a lot of that sand will blow right back during the next storm.

Long-term solutions involve moving the sand to lower elevations along the beach, planting beach grass, or installing fences similar to what are used to control snow drifts in other parts of the Northwest.

The county said it can't bankroll a project that will only benefit a handful of its residents. That's why the community wants to form what would be Oregon's first Sand Control District. It would be a taxing body that exists solely to manage sand. It's possible thanks to a law approved earlier this year by Oregon lawmakers.

‘The ocean and shore are so dynamic’

But not everyone in Bayshore wants to be a part of it. Rhonda Janzten lives about a half-block inland. That's enough to put her house outside the big sandy mess.

"Any time this area gets in the paper, it becomes like a National Enquirer scandal sheet and it's like ‘Whoa, everybody here has a sand problem,’ which is not the case,” Janzten said. “It's just one street."

The exact boundaries of the Sand Control District are still being determined. It would have to be approved by voters within its boundaries. But Cameron La Follette of the Oregon Coast Alliance said Bayshore residents shouldn't limit the new district just to people with sand up to their windows.

"The ocean and shore are so dynamic,” he said. “And what I do on my property is almost certainly going to affect your property even if you're at the other end of the beach. And it might not affect it this year but it might affect it three years from now when we have a big storm."

La Follette said many of the homes in Bayshore probably shouldn't have been built in the first place. And that brings up this odd footnote. Bayshore exists thanks in part to singer Pat Boone. Boone invested in a company that helped develop the community. A hotel there bore his name for many years.

One of Boone's big hits? A song called "Love Letters In The Sand."