By Lillian Boyd

The derrick barge you may have seen off the coast of San Clemente is being used to expand an artificial reef, but that project is now being put on hold the remainder of the year.

Southern California Edison has wrapped up construction on expanding Wheeler North Reef for the year. The utility company will resume construction—which involves the unloading of granite from a derrick barge—in spring, after lobster season.

Prior to expansion efforts, Wheeler North Reef, a 174-acre, man-made kelp forest, stretched from out past the end of the San Clemente Pier south to Seal Rock. SCE is expanding the reef to more than double the size (384 acres) and stretching it into Dana Point waters. Mandated by the California Coastal Commission, the reef is intended to facilitate kelp forests that were lost to warm-water discharge from the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS).

“The project has been halted, as was planned, in observance of lobster season,” said John Dobken, the public information officer for SCE. “The project will continue next May.”

As of September, SCE concluded the 2019 portion of the project with 91,895 tons of rock placed, 119.33 acres built, 27 barge trips and zero safety incidents or near-misses, said Dobken.

The project was paused in September and will resume May-September 2020. The original reef was built in 1988 and stretches about 1.4 miles southward from the San Clemente Pier. The $20 million expansion will reach north of the pier for total length of about five miles. The cost dropped from the original estimate of $33 million. The bill will be footed by rate-payers.

Jenny McGee is the project manager overseeing the reef’s expansion.

“What I love about this project is that even after we’ve fulfilled compliance, this reef is going to continue to give back. It will still be facilitating marine life and supporting the kelp bed,” McGee said in a previous interview. “I feel like I am adding value to the local ecosystem and contributing to something much bigger than myself.”

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