Coastal Resources Commission approves new sandbag rules
By MARK HIBBS
Coastal Review Online
New rules allowing the expanded use of sandbags to control erosion on North Carolina beaches are set to take effect March 1.
state’s Coastal Resources Commission approved the temporary rules last
week during its meeting at Atlantic Beach. The N.C. General Assembly in
2015 mandated the changes, which are also to be reflected in permanent
rules that must be adopted within 270 days of the effective date of the
say the changes could result in massive sandbag seawalls all along the
oceanfront, blocking public access to beaches, harming wildlife
habitats and exacerbating erosion problems elsewhere on the strand.
Those opposed also point to provisions they say could allow sandbags,
which are allowed as temporary measures, to remain in place forever.
members have also expressed concerns during their deliberations, which
began last fall. Some of their concerns lingered Wednesday. The new
rules allow sandbags to be used even where there is no imminently
threatened structure, such as a vacant lot, which was not previously
allowed. They allow for contiguous sandbag walls from one shoreline
property boundary to another, regardless of whether there is an
imminently threatened structure.
Commission Chairman Frank Gorham noted the provision could allow sandbags to stretch the entire length of an island.
is potential for a domino effect in that case,” said Mike Lopazanski,
policy analysis manager with the N.C. Division of Coastal Management.
termination date for all permits covering contiguous sandbag walls on a
property will now be the same as the permit-expiration date of the last
bags placed, rather than the first bags placed as was the case
previously. This provision also prompted discussion. Examples could
include a wall that’s lengthened because of new erosion problems or in
cases where bag walls are made higher, said Braxton Davis, the division
those cases, then everything that’s on the property would be under one
expiration date. I don’t know that we’re going to see this frequently,”
Davis said. “We’re not going to be re-setting the date every time
there’s a new bag put in place or anything like that.”
Davis said the division would have to evaluate whether additions would be reasonable and meet other criteria.
N.C. Coastal Federation, the Southern Environmental Law Center and the
town of Nags Head each took issue with the rules changes in comments
submitted by the respective groups in December.
federation said it objected because the rules would “destroy the
quality of our natural beaches and interfere with the public’s right to
use the dry sand beach.” The federation also questioned the
constitutionality of the legislature’s mandate and requested the state
attorney general to evaluate the law and whether it is consistent with
the state’s public trust doctrine. North Carolina recognizes the entire
ocean beach as generally subject to public trust rights.
law center expressed similar worries as well as concerns about the
threat to wildlife, saying the rules pose a substantial danger to
loggerhead sea turtles and shorebirds such as the piping plover and the
red knot. The wildlife mentioned are protected by the Endangered
Ogburn, town manager in Nags Head, requested that local governments be
given authority to determine the appropriateness of sandbags in their
Lopazanski also noted potential problems with the rules as proposed, such as meeting Army Corps Engineers’ requirements.
may be an issue with the provisions when it comes to vacant lots when
there’s no threatened structure, that they may not be allowed,”
Lopazanski said. He said the issue may require the Corps’ approval of
individual cases, which could result in significant permitting delays.
other business, the commission approved a change to development line
rules and procedures for oceanfront structures, a move that opponents
say could have the potential to increase seaward encroachment of
move came at the request of an Oak Island beachfront homeowner who took
issue with the existing static line of vegetation rule because of
construction of new homes being built nearby on lots with less beach
frontage than his home.
federation objected, saying the new rules allow for larger-scale
development by eliminating a 2,500-square-foot building floor area
restriction in areas likely to experience erosion or storm surge and
are close to inlets. Also, the change moves away from rules that
require the landward-most structure be used as a reference point to
limit new development. The move also allows development of lots deemed
unbuildable by standards previously in place, according to the
commission also voted to proceed with actions, including setting a
public hearing, on changes to general permit requirements for the
construction of marsh sills, or living shorelines, as a means of
shoreline erosion control. The action is part of an ongoing effort to
modify the marsh sill general permit to remove the more time-consuming
the commission agreed to changes in language relating to grandfathering
provisions covering multi-family oceanfront structures that don’t
conform to current setback rules, eliminating a distinction between
residential and commercial uses.
article is provided by Coastal Review Online, an online news service
covering North Carolina's coast. For more news, features, and
information about the coast, go to www.coastalreview.org.)