April 9, 2014
No easy answers yet for maintaining inlets
By TRISTA TALTON
Coastal Review Online
Carolina lawmakers will not receive a completed final report on the
Coastal Resources Commission’s inlet management study by year’s end.
are not going to know everything by final report time,” CRC Chairman
Frank Gorham said last week following the last of a series of public
meetings held to discuss inlet issues. “We have a lot to do, and I
don’t have a problem telling the General Assembly or the governor we’re
Maybe 40 percent to half of the report will actually be complete and ready for submission by the Dec. 31 deadline, he said.
study, born out of a legislative directive to the state Division of
Coastal Management to study land adjacent to the mouth of the Cape Fear
River, was outlined last year by Gorham in a memo to CRC members. It is
tackling a series of highly complex issues related to inlets.
results will be the basis for policy decisions that will affect
dredging, channel realignment projects, development standards for inlet
areas, inlet erosion rates, terminal groins and how beach communities
will be allowed to respond to emergencies that may require bulldozing
sand or sandbagging to protect homes, businesses and infrastructure
such as septic tanks and roads.
North Carolina’s coast has 19
inlets. Twelve are “developed inlets,” meaning they are lined by homes,
condos, hotels, and other businesses.
Inlets are dynamic
geological bodies that generally ebb and flow with the tide or migrate
altogether. When these inlets move they sometimes endanger beach
structures, threatening to feed them to an encroaching sea.
towns are persistently trying to maintain and manage the inlets not
only to protect homes and businesses, but because inlets play a
significant economic role.
The value of keeping the inlets
navigable and the costs local governments are incurring to maintain
them has been an overarching theme throughout the coastal
“Federal dollars are going away so
we have to be more efficient with the local dollars we have,” Gorham
said. “We need to have a plan as if we’re not getting federal dollars.
We also need to make our dredge programs more efficient. I think we
have a real breakdown between the core funding issue and coastal
communities that have worried about how they’re going to fund their
Local beach town officials, engineers and
shoreline and waterway associations are asking the CRC to help them
establish guidelines that will allow them to affordably maintain these
inlets, particularly the state’s five shallow draft inlets, which do
not receive the same amount of federal resources as larger, deeper,
commercial navigation channels.
“It seems like we’re always in a
defensive mode,” Carolina Beach Mayor Dan Wilcox said. “It seems like
we’re always in a posture where we react instead of anticipate. Our
main concern right now is keeping our inlet open.”
Beach Inlet is dredged to a depth of about eight feet. Persistent
shoaling routinely and quickly re-clogs the inlet, making it
This is a similar problem in New
Topsail Inlet, another shallow-draft waterway heavily used by
commercial fishermen, charter boats, locals and tourists to quickly
access the Atlantic.
Both Carolina Beach and Topsail Beach have
been examining ways to dredge deeper and more often. It’s a process
much easier said than done for a variety of reasons, the first of which
is the lack of federal money available to sustain routine dredging of
The Army Corps of Engineers has three shallow
draft inlet dredges. Inlet dredging is limited to six months out of the
year so as not to interfere with turtle nesting season. As a result,
beach towns end up competing for dredges within a narrow window of
“We’re doomed basically if we don’t come up with a plan
B,” said Dennis Barbour, a member of the N.C. Beach, Inlet and Waterway
Association. “We need the Division of Coastal Management and the
Coastal Resources Commission’s help.”
That will take some political posturing.
coast represents 14 percent of the people in North Carolina,” Gorham
said. “I don’t think we even have 14 percent political clout in North
Carolina. We are not appreciated in Raleigh.”
coastal counties and groups advocating shoreline and waterway
protection need to band together and do a better job of touting the
coasts’ economic benefits to the state, he said.
Inlets are an
integral part of that discussion because they are responsible for
bringing millions of dollars to the local and state economies.
are also individually unique waterways that each need its own
management scheme, said Bill Cleary, a retired geology professor and
member of the CRC’s Science Panel on Coastal Hazards.
realignment, terminal groins, sand bypassing – all may be effective in
managing different inlets, he said. New Topsail Inlet, for example, is
not a candidate for a terminal groin or relocation because it has
migrated about 5,700 feet, Cleary said.
oscillates within a very narrow zone, making it a prime candidate for a
terminal groin, he said. A handful of beach communities -- Figure Eight
Island, Ocean Isle Beach, Bald Head Island and Holden Beach -- are
currently seeking state permits to build terminal groins.
state prohibited the construction of terminal groins as erosion-control
devices on the beach until 2011 when the legislature allowed four to be
The designation “inlet hazard area” in state rules is
reserved for areas around inlets because they are particularly
susceptible to erosion. The designation is crucial because it
establishes setbacks and building restrictions designed to protect the
public’s safety and environmentally sensitive areas.
science panel was asked in 2005 to draft a report on inlet hazard
areas, zones especially vulnerable to erosion, flooding and other
adverse effects of sand, wind and water because of their proximity to
inlets. At the time, it was recommended that the panel complete the
development methods to designate these zones. That report has yet to be
published, said Spencer Rogers, a member of the science panel and
coastal engineer with North Carolina Sea Grant.
The CRC in
February made the controversial decision to remove what was formerly
Mad Inlet, which ran alongside Sunset Beach in Brunswick County, from
an inlet-hazard designation. Based on a recommendation from the science
panel, the CRC deemed the inlet, which last closed in the mid-1990s,
was no longer, by definition, an inlet.
The science panel also
suggested that the CRC examine “temporary” inlets, those prone to
reopening during a storm, in its management study.
need to look at that,” Gorham said. “The question is do we have the
same rules for those areas that might be prone to opening. I’m not
comfortable saying we’re going to have the same tough rules for those
areas that we have for inlet hazard areas.”
Where to Comment
N.C. Division of Coastal Management is accepting written comments on
its inlet-management study through April 15. The study’s final
draft findings are due July 31.
Written comments can be sent to Matt Slagel, 400 Commerce Ave., Morehead City, 28557, or e-mailed to him at [email protected].
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.)