One of the more important issues facing the Bandon Planning Commission this Thursday, Feb. 7, is whether the slope down to the beach in front of the Bandon Beach Motel can support the construction of a three-story Bandon Beach Hotel. Three geotechnical reports have been written about this site, and two of them agree that the slope just to the north of the Coquille Point stairway is a slowly moving landslide.
The third report, which was written for the people who want to build the hotel, contradicts itself. It claims the base of the bluff is "hard, resistant bedrock." Yet it also admits this same slope base is eroding at two feet per year. Anyone who has walked on the Coquille Point stairway down to the beach recently knows that the land under and north of the stairway is moving and the base of the slope is simply sand and dirt, not bedrock.
This movement was so serious that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service temporarily closed the stairway in 2014 and commissioned a study of the problem. According to their 2015 geotechnical review, there is an "active landslide" just north of the stairway that at that time extended from the beach up to about 20 feet below the asphalt path on the Refuge west of the motel.
Observing a new series of stress cracks in the asphalt due to the path being undermined by erosion, Bandon resident Dr. Robert Fischer commissioned a report last fall, 2018, by engineering geologist Dr. Gunnar Schlieder. He found that continuing erosion had led the top of the slide to creep up to and cross the asphalt path, moving an estimated 30 feet in three years.
At the Jan. 24 Planning Commission hearing, the geologist hired by the motel owners claimed that these cracks just represent ordinary settling. Yet none of the other asphalt paths on Coquille Point show such settling.
To bolster their case he then brought up Portland State University's landslide studies on the Oregon Coast conducted by Dr. Scott Burns and his graduate students, saying they were “unbiased” and that since "they did not identify this slope" in their study, it must not be a landslide. Dr. Fischer subsequently interviewed Dr. Burns on this question and it turns out there weren’t any landslides listed at this location because Burns’ landslide studies never went farther south than Yachats.
While the landslide is moving slowly today, it might be sped up by the proposal to dig a basement 12 feet deep in the sand the full width of the planned, 112-foot-long hotel. This will interrupt groundwater flows that now go under the current motel and increase the moisture saturation of the soils around the site. Dr. Burns says that this is a "very serious problem.”
According to Dr. Schlieder, the top of the landslide now sits just another 30 feet away from the motel. How long will it be before the landslide begins to undermine the motel or hotel itself?
Bandon's comprehensive plan requires that developments adjacent to the Fefuge “will have no adverse impact on the function of the Refuge." The burden of proof is on the applicants to show that their plan will have no adverse impact. The motel owners have failed to meet that burden, and until they do, the Planning Commission should reject the application.