Coastal Erosion Gets Controversial in North Carolina

Terra Firma here with the latest dirt! Professor Loam mentioned yesterday that coastal erosion can be a touchy subject. Now, you know I love a little controversy and today’s news doesn’t disappoint!
Fellow news enthusiast, Travis Fain, reports…
RALEIGH, NC -- The General Assembly is about to reopen one of its more controversial, complicated and oddly named debates: the battle over terminal groins.
Terminal groins are small ocean walls meant to slow beach erosion. They have been banned in North Carolina since 1985. Critics say they can cause unpredictable effects, including more severe erosion in other places.
But with the Republican takeover of the legislature, the ban stands a good chance of being overturned. Past efforts to allow the walls cleared the state Senate but got hung up in the House, where political observers say then-Speaker Joe Hackney kept the relevant bills stuck in committee.
This year, lifting the ban "enjoys fairly broad support" in the Senate, said state Sen. Phil Berger, the chamber's top Republican. And new Speaker of the House Thom Tillis has promised that the bill "will certainly have a full hearing," then move forward if members support it.
State Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, filed the bill Wednesday and said it has "as good a chance as it's ever had" to pass. His Senate Bill 110 would allow two or three groins per inlet.
Several environmental groups are opposed to the groins for a number of reasons. They're expensive, costing $3.5 million to $10 million to build and fill behind with sand. Maintenance costs as much as $2 million a year, according to one state study. And though groin proponents say local property owners and beach communities would pay for the walls, the N.C. Coastal Federation warns that state taxpayers may eventually be asked to foot the bill.
There's also debate over how well groins work in preventing coastal erosion. Typically, they're meant to keep coastal inlets from migrating, as inlets naturally do over the years due to current shifts. A shifting inlet means a loss of beach on the tip of an island, and that often endangers homes and other buildings near the inlet.
There are at least two groins on North Carolina's coast already, which were exempted from an oft-revisited ban the state approved in 1985. There seem to be some positive results from these groins, a state-funded study reported last year. But just how well groins work is hard to determine, the study said, because every inlet and beach is different. Also, other beach renourishment efforts, such as trucking in sand, may mask the positive and negative effects of groins, the study found.
The Coastal Federal argues that, while groins may slow erosion on one part of a beach, they can accelerate it farther down the beach. The ocean is unpredictable, and "throwing walls of rock and sheet metal in its path usually has unforeseen consequences," the federation's website states.
Brown, a coastal senator who has tried for years to have the groin ban lifted, acknowledged the differing opinions on the science of beach preservation. But he said that, with the millions already spent on preservation along North Carolina's coast, "it's time we try these groins."
Brown also promised "every protection that I think you could have" to keep state taxpayers from having to assume the costs of beach walls. Senate Bill 110 would require various environmental and engineering assessments, notification to area property owners before anything is built and the "identification of the financial resources" needed to build the groin and monitor it.
But the bill doesn't specifically require a construction bond, as Brown had previously said it might. It also doesn't include a ban against using state dollars on the projects, as environmental advocates have said it should. That, the Coastal Federation predicts, would eventually allow wealthy owners of vacation homes along North Carolina's coast to use state dollars to protect their homes from an encroaching inlet.
"It's been one of those issues that once you give aye on it, it's just impossible to stop, and it's like a snowball rolling down hill," the federation's executive director, Todd Miller, said. "One structure leads to another because the first one just doesn't work."
Thanks to Mr. Fain for his riveting story. I'm Terra Firma and this has been your daily dose of dirt!

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