Seawater intake replacement, bike path improvement projects win public works awards

In this aerial view of UCSC's Long Marine Lab, the seawater intake is in a tiny pocket beach at the base of the point. (Photo by Long Marine Lab)
bike path crossing
Improved signage and road crossing are part of the rebuilt bike path that won an award of merit from the American Public Works Association.
divers at sunrise
Divers are lifted from the ocean at sunrise after working through the night during a low tide. (Photo by Phil Boutelle)
divers in the water
Divers work to replace the seawater intake structure at the base of the bluff at Long Marine Lab. (Photo by Long Marine Lab)
A $1.1 million project to replace the seawater intake structure at the UC Santa Cruz Long Marine Lab was selected as environmental project of the year by the Monterey Bay chapter of the American Public Works Association.

The project entailed divers who could only work during minus tides at the base of a 30-foot coastal cliff and concrete that had to set in cold ocean water within four hours but not seize while being pumped.

It was supposed to be completed over three months in fall 2019 but high surf over several weeks brought work to an end in December after only 10 days of actual work.

A revised schedule for last summer was impacted by COVID-19, and an unprecedented lightning storm followed by the CZU Lightning Complex Fire. Work finally ended last September. Despite the natural impediments, the seawater intake system continued to deliver up to 1,000 gallons a minute to labs on the marine terrace operated by UCSC and state and federal agencies.

Another UC Santa Cruz project, the Great Meadow Bike Path, phase 2, was selected for an award of merit as a transportation project of less than $5 million. It, too, was hampered by COVID-19 and wildfire, particularly smoke. Both awards were announced at a virtual ceremony Jan. 27 by the Monterey Bay APWA chapter.

The original 44-year-old mile-long bike path was upgraded to current Caltrans standards. The new path follows the same route but with wider bike lanes and shoulders, improved signage, and safer road crossings. The uphill portion can also accommodate pedestrians since it is wider.

The seawater intake structure is located in a small pocket beach below the marine terrace and suffered significant damage from corrosion and heavy wave action. Despite temporary repairs, an inspection in 2018 revealed that the system was well beyond its effective useful life. Its failure would mean significant loss of life to marine animals that depend on fresh, filtered seawater at UCSC’s Coastal Campus.

Nine separate federal, state and local regulatory agencies were involved in the permitting process and a biologist was on the project site at all times during construction. A seawater repair project of that sort had never been done before, said the project manager Phil Boutelle from UCSC’s Physical Planning Development and Operations office.

“Completing a repair in the state marine protected area under the federal marine sanctuary hadn’t been done before, so everyone involved got creative to make it happen, including regulators and contractors,” Boutelle said of the effort. He credited campus planning staff for making sure the project was able to be built. “The PPDO planning team was nimble and responsive. I couldn’t have done it without their support.”

Divers were lowered in a cage by a crane positioned on the bluff above which sped the process of accessing the work site and helped prevent impact on mussels on the reef.

During the first five weeks of construction, the dive team lost more than half of its planned work days because of high surf, which made working conditions unsafe and the site inaccessible.

Work was delayed until summer 2020 when surf conditions were expected to be flatter but high swells frequently delayed construction. Work often took place at night to coincide with minus tides. The dive crew was in the water in the early morning hours of Aug. 16 when the dry lightning storm hit. They soon got out. The lightning not only stopped work but ignited dozens of fires that further delayed progress because of smoke, campus closures and travel bans.