Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Misinformation in fight over jetties

One hot issue that may come before the House of Representatives in this short session is whether to allow construction of single rock jetties -- called "terminal groins" -- at coastal inlets to help cut down on nearby beach erosion at such oceanfronts at Figure Eight Island and Ocean Isle. It's a hot issue because it would change North Carolina's longtime ban on the use of hardened structures such as groins to stop or slow erosion. It's been a good policy because such groins almost always result in damage to neighbors' property because of the refocused action of waves scouring away sand.

Last year the Senate passed a bill to allow terminal groins in a few key areas after proponents pointed to the use of groins that help stabilize Beaufort Inlet and help protect the base of the Bonner Bridge at Oregon Inlet. The legislature directed the Coastal Resources Commission to conduct a study and make recommendations based on the findings. The $300,000 study found that terminal groins can help stabilize inlets, but also noted that there can be significant costs involved. And earlier studies questioned whether the groin at Oregon Inlet had been effective in any way because it requires regular, costly beach renourishment to repair damage on Pea Island attributed to the groin.

Still, proponents of the groins are worried about further loss of beach property and expensive homes, and they'd like to try using groins. They're pushing House Speaker Joe Hackney to allow the Senate-passed bill to come up for a vote, and they're urging members to carpet bomb Hackney's office with hand-written letters emphasizing that the Coastal Resources Commission "studied terminal groins, stated that they are effective and made recommendations on their use."

Well, not exactly. Studied, yes. And it did say that "terminal groins, in combination with beach nourishment, can be effective at controlling erosion at the end of barrier islands."

But it also recognized that while groins can "hold the tip of the island in place… there can be other resultant impacts" that may "undermine the groin." It also found that while beaches may build up, they may also recede. The commission also said the study findings are inconclusive and the commission could not make a determination that terminal groins would or would not cause adverse impacts.

While proponents imply that the commission recommended groins, in fact the commission had many reservations about their use -- and suggested conditions if the legislature decided to allow them in certain circumstance. That's not exactly recommending their use, is it?  For those who take the time to read it all, here's what the commission actually said:

The General Assembly directed the CRC to conduct a study on the feasibility and advisability of the use of terminal groins as an erosion control device. The study determined that terminal groins, in combination with beach nourishment, can be effective at controlling erosion at the end of barrier islands. The individuality of inlets necessitates site-specific analysis. The study findings were mixed regarding the effects of terminal groins on wildlife habitat and marine resources.

If it is the desire of the General Assembly to lift some of the limitations specific to terminal groins, due to the individual nature of inlets, the following factors must be effectively met:

1. In light of the current policy favoring a non-structural approach to erosion control, the use of a terminal groin, should be allowed only after all other non-structural erosion control responses, including relocation of threatened structures, are found to be impracticable.

2. The effects of a terminal groin on adjacent beaches are variable and a primary concern. Any use of such a structure should include siting and construction that avoid interruption of the natural sand movement to downdrift beaches.

3. The nature of terminal groins and the potential effects on coastal resources adjacent properties necessitate a full environmental review. Any proposal for the construction of a terminal groin should be accompanied by an environmental impact statement that meets the requirements of the NC Environmental Policy Act (NC G.S. 113-4).

4. To ensure the adequacy of compliance with SEPA and the protection of the public interest, third-party review of all environmental documents should be required. The cost of third-party review should be borne by those responsible for the project. This third-party review should include all design, construction, maintenance and removal criteria.

5. Since a terminal groin may impact properties well beyond those adjacent to the structure, notification of property owners in areas with the potential to be affected by the terminal groin should be required. This notification should include all aspects of the project likely to affect the adjacent
shoreline, including construction, maintenance and mitigation activities as well as post-construction effects.

6. As the post-construction effects of a terminal groin on coastal resources and adjacent properties are difficult to predict, financial assurance in the form of a bond, insurance policy, escrow account or other financial instrument should be required to cover the cost of removing the terminal groin and any restoration of adjacent beaches. Financial assurance should also be required for the long-term maintenance of the structure including beach nourishment activities. (Legislative authorization for requiring financial assurance would be necessary).

7. The use of a terminal groin would need an adequate monitoring program to ensure that the effects on coastal resources and adjacent properties doe not exceed what would be anticipated in the environmental documents. All monitoring of impacts of a terminal groin on coastal resources and adjoining properties should be accomplished by a third-party with all cost borne by those responsible for the project.

8. As terminal groins are typically used in combination with a long-term shoreline management program, any proposal for use of a terminal groin in NC should be part of a large-scale beach fill project, including subsequent maintenance necessary to achieve a design life of no less than 25 years.

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