– The latest skirmish in the ongoing Sand Wars is being waged on
unfamiliar terrain and pits a new opponent against an unusual
alliance of adversaries.
the first shots have already been fired, it all breaks out in the
open 6 p.m. today at a public meeting at the Duke Marine Lab on
Pivers Island over a proposed federal dredging plan for the Morehead
all the billions of grains of silica along the 320 miles of N.C.
coastline, getting quality sand to widen beaches so as to protect the
buildings along them from erosion, storms and a rising sea is
maddeningly difficult and frighteningly expensive. Once that sand is
found, people then tend to fight over it. Seaside squabbles over who
gets that sand and who pays for it have erupted over a wide front,
from the mouth of the Cape Fear to the wind-swept strands of the
Outer Banks. Combatants have included beach town mayors, federal
engineers, taxpayers, scientists, bird lovers and turtle watchers.
newest fight was ignited, as these things often are, by the Army
Corps of Engineers,
which has proposed a new 20-year
for the Morehead City harbor, Beaufort Inlet and the channel that
connects the two. The Corps has been dredging these places for more
than a century. Since 1986, it has used some of the resulting sand to
widen the beach at nearby Atlantic Beach in order to protect the
houses, hotels and roads of one of the oldest beach towns in North
relationship between the Corps and the town and Carteret County has
had its ups and downs over the years, but everybody was more or less
happy with the current arrangement. Then, the Corps released a draft
of its new plan late last year. It proposes for the first time
placing sand from the channel dredging, not only on Atlantic Beach,
but also across the inlet on Shackleford Banks.
Lookout National Seashore,
Shackleford is 19 miles of nothing – no houses, no roads, no
motels, no condos, no people. It’s what makes the island so
special. It has gorgeous sand dunes, ancient maritime forests with
gnarled live oaks, deserted beaches, a herd of wild horses and a
colorful history that includes the famed whaling port of Diamond
western end of the island that abuts the inlet also has an erosion
rate that in recent years has exceeded more than 100 feet a year,
according to county surveys. Marine navigation lights that a few
years ago were in the dunes are now at the water’s edge.
Kenney doesn’t think he can just sit idly by and watch the end of
an island he’s charged to protect wash into the ocean. “We’re
not taking this decision lightly,” said Kenney, the superintendent
of the seashore. “But as managers, we’re always looking for
options. You hate to walk away from any option you may need in the
why the National
which manages the seashore, asked the Corps in 2010 to include
Shackleford in its long-range dredging plan. The Corps agreed and
made Shackleford part of its preferred alternative, suggesting that
about 40 percent of the sand dredged from the channel be placed
there. The park, the plan notes, has the option of refusing when the
decision has been made on whether the sand would actually be used,
Kenney maintained. “But if we’re not included in this process it
could be 20 years before we get another opportunity,” he said.
another possible suitor for the sand triggers jitters across the
inlet in Atlantic Beach, which has come to depend on dredged sand.
Pipes from the Corps’ dredging in 2011 spewed about 1.2 million
cubic yards of sand from the state park at Fort Macon at the tip of
Atlantic Beach to the Circle in the middle of town. That’s about
200,000 dump truck loads. About 600,000 cubic yards are scheduled to
be spread along the town’s beach this year.
Cooper, the mayor of Atlantic Beach, admits that he’s in this fight
for selfish reasons. “This is a fight about sand,” he said. “My
role as mayor is to protect the homes at Atlantic Beach and make sure
we have good beaches for tourists. I think there’s a distinction
between protecting a fully developed island and one that’s managed
as a national wildlife area.”
“Rudi” Rudolph, as manager of the county’s Shore
is a seasoned sand warrior. He doesn’t relish picking a fight with
a national park, but there’s big money involved. The county,
Rudolph explained, is devising a beach re-nourishment plan for
Atlantic Beach and all the other towns on Bogue Banks. That plan
assumes that the Corps’ dredged sand will fortify much of Atlantic
Beach. If even 40 percent of it goes someplace else, he said, the
county will have to make up the shortfall. That will cost millions of
dollars, Rudolph said. “We’d be screwed,” he said. “It would
wreak havoc with our engineering and economics.”
county and Atlantic Beach now pay next to nothing for the sand.
don’t want to make Shackleford Banks the red herring just to cover
our butts,” Rudolph said, “but at the end of the day this is
about saving our butts.”
so much at stake, the town and county have gone on an early
offensive. Lawyers have been hired and a public relations campaign
launched with its obligatory website.
Mailings have been sent out, and “Keep Shack Wild” signs
have sprouted up along roadsides and are particularly prevalent along
U.S. 70 and Harkers Island Road in the eastern end of the county.
Kenney thinks they were put there for his benefit. He drives the
roads every day from his home in Beaufort to the park’s
headquarters at the end of Harkers Island.
of the Corps’ plan have also reached out to unlikely allies.
They’ve put aside old differences with scientists who have been
critical of re-nourishment projects on Bogue Banks in the past and
urged them to speak out against the plan.
not really our place to speak to the natural resource issues on
Shackleford,” Rudolph explained a little sheepishly. “So we have
asked others who are more knowledgeable.”
the most famous of these strange bedfellows is Orrin Pilkey. The
esteemed geology professor at Duke University is an old war horse who
has railed for decades against over-development of the state’s
beaches. He led media tours in 2005 of a botched re-nourishment
project that littered a section of Atlantic Beach in mud balls.
appreciates the irony of now coming to the town’s defense, but his
love of Shackleford, where he has led hundreds of graduate students
on spirited jaunts through the dunes and along the beach, demands it.
very distressed by the plan,” he said. “This is very serious
because we see the Park Service backing away from its very courageous
policy of letting nature have its way.”
Keep Shack Wild web site also makes much of this apparent
backpedaling. They are all talking here of Section 126.96.36.199 of
the 2006 Park Service policies regarding shorelines and barrier
islands. It says:
shoreline processes (such as erosion, deposition, dune formation,
overwash, inlet formation, and shoreline migration) will be allowed
to continue without interference. Where human activities or
structures have altered the nature or rate of natural shoreline
processes, the Service will, in consultation with appropriate state
and federal agencies, investigate alternatives for mitigating the
effects of such activities or structures and for restoring natural
Park Service, Kenney said, maintains that the accelerated erosion at
the tip of Shackleford isn’t natural. “There is science to
support the contention that the erosion rate at the end of the island
is due to the dredging of the inlet,” he said. “That’s why we
want to be considered.”
a geologist himself, doesn’t disagree. Shackleford, he speculates,
has continued its slow migration south and west, as barrier islands
along our coast tend to do. Its western tip is now at the edge
of the deep shipping channel maintained by the Corps. It has nowhere
to go but in the ditch, Rudolph said.
Corps recognizes that reality by proposing to put the dredged sand
not on the island’s tip where it would quickly disappear but
farther up the beach or just offshore. In theory, natural currents
would then move the sand towards the end of the island.
depositing sand on Shackleford doesn’t solve the problem,”
Rudolph says. “Nothing in the plan addresses the ultimate cause of
isn’t so sure that dredging is the culprit. “It is absolutely
normal. The inlet goes back and forth. What we’re seeing is
typical,” he said. “Yeah, so the range finders are almost in the
water. So what?”
“Pete” Peterson would ask the same question. He is a researcher
and biologist at the University of North Carolina’s Institute
of Marine Sciences
in Morehead City. A resident of Bogue Banks, Peterson was vocal in
his criticism of re-nourishment projects a decade ago that dumped
what he thought was inferior sand on the island’s beaches.
sand – even the good stuff – on Shackleford provides no natural
benefits, he said. Allowing the island’s end to erode – even if
dredging is the ultimate cause – would.
wrongs don’t make a right, and the cure is likely worse than the
disease,” Peterson said. “That end of Shackleford is a breeding
area for shorebirds, and it still has active, healthy dunes. Having
that as a mobile point is providing habitats. It would allow shoals
to form where birds feed. It represents critical habitat that we
don’t have much of. It forms a unique complex. That system as a
whole is more valuable than the separate parts.”
concedes that those are all good points that will be considered
during the public review process. “That’s why we have this
process,” he said, “but understand that I’m not trying to
counter the loss of little bits and pieces of the island. I’m
trying to hang on to an option for a future I don’t know.”
for fight, then, Rudolph warns. “It is Sand Wars,” he said. “It’s
about winning and losing at the end of the day. And we will bring all
our resources to bear.”
story is provided courtesy of Coastal Review Online, the coastal news
and features service of the N.C. Coastal Federation. You can read
other stories about the North Carolina coast at www.nccoast.org.)