its temporary sandbag rules tossed aside over a technicality, the state
Coastal Resources Commission this month set its sights on drafting the
permanent rules it needed to do anyway.
The CRC has limited wiggle room within the
legislative mandate passed last summer regulating the erosion control
structures, but it will be able to roll much of the intended temporary
rules into the proposed final state rules for sandbags on beaches.
Despite the commission’s long-tortured
relationship with sandbags – property owners flouting rules, requests
for countless variances, demands for permit extensions, bags abandoned
and numerous lawsuits filed– the coastal panel has stuck to its guns on
their proper, and impermanent, role.
“Again, keep in mind the intent of the
legislation: these are temporary structures,” Mike Lopazanski, state
Division of Coastal Management acting assistant director, reminded the
commission at its here earlier this month. “Sandbags were allowed as a
way to protect homes when the commission put in the hardening ban. We
need to craft these rules with that in mind.”
But commission Chairman Frank Gorham expressed
concern that limits on sandbag permits to once-per-property would not
account for property owners who were unaware of those bags unexpectedly
exposed in a storm.
Braxton Davis, who is the director of the
Division of Coastal Management, said that scenario would be rare, and
could be addressed with a variance. “The staff position is pretty
firm,” he said, “that there should be something temporary about this.”
Gorham’s motion to take out the one-time
provision was approved 6-5, but withdrawn after discussions with
division staff convinced him that devising rules in just a short period
was impossible. The CRC will revisit the issue at its next meeting.
“To me, if you do that,” responded David Moye, an
audience member from Greenville, “you remove the incentive for
communities to go after beach nourishment projects.”
Last year, the North Carolina General Assembly
passed new sandbag rules that allowed the structures to protect vacant
lots if sandbags were permitted in adjacent developed property,
essentially allowing contiguous sandbag walls from one shoreline
boundary to another. Requirements for removal of the huge bags were
By year’s end, the commission had hurriedly
completed temporary amendments to the legislation, but the rules were
not authorized because a statutory deadline was missed. Rather than
challenging the decision, the CRC decided to continue on with the
permanent sandbag rule-making process.
“The legislative directive did not write the
rules for you,” Lopazanski explained to the commission, “so we could
Proposed amendments the CRC is considering include:
Eliminate the requirement that only imminently
threatened structures can qualify for sandbag protection. The change
addresses the concern that vacant lots adjacent to sandbagged lots
could be excessively eroded.
Tie the expiration date for a permit to the placement of the last bag, rather than the date of the first bag installed.
Allow a property owner to keep sandbags in place while litigation is active. Damaged bags could be repaired or replaced.
Require only sandbags above grade at expiration
of the permit to be removed. The structures need to be covered with
sand, but no longer need to be vegetated.
Require sandbags to be removed at the completion
of a beach renourishment or inlet stabilization project, not at the
beginning as previously required. An exposed structure would be allowed
to be covered during the project.
Allow permits to be for eight years, whatever the
size of the structure. Each would be issued once per property unless a
community beach-widening project is planned.
Although the provisions in the legislation are
law, Gorham said that the legislature has indicated it is willing to
adapt the rules with consideration of the discretion of the commission.
There will be a 60-day public comment period followed by a public hearing before the permanent rules are implemented.
GEO-TUBES AND INLETS
After a presentation by Tancred Miller, the
division’s coastal and ocean policy manager, the commission rejected
geo-tubes as alternate erosion control structure on the oceanfront, but
kept the option open for inlet areas.
The division staff is in the process of updating the Inlet Hazardous Area designation.
In his presentation, Miller conveyed the unimpressive effectiveness of the tubes in some states that have used them.
The tubes are huge sand-filled sleeves of fabric that are installed in a trench parallel to shore and covered with sand.
Spencer Rogers, a coastal geologist who serves on
the CRC’s Science Panel, said the geo-tubes, which can be 300 feet
long, have two-thirds less fabric than the 400 or so sandbags that
would equal their heft, but they’re easier to vandalize and are still
not fail-proof in storms.
“All of these things are trade-offs,” Rogers said.
And, like sandbags, the public can be left holding the bag when it comes to their removal.
“They’re there almost for infinity, and they have
to be removed at public expense,” said Renee Cahoon, vice-chair of the
CRC and a Nags Head town commissioner. “Quite frankly, I can’t
see them working on our shoreline.”
Cahoon asked if a homeowner could be bonded to
protect public dollars from being used to clean up abandoned temporary
erosion structures – whether sandbags or geo-tubes.
“A lot of these are LLCs, so they walk away,” Cahoon said of property owners.
Elaborating in a later phone conversation, she
said that people may not realize that sandbags can long outlast the
property they were meant to protect. “We’re still removing them 10
years after the houses are gone,” she said. “Once the homeowner loses
their house, they’re not interested in that house anymore.”
Lopanzanki said that the division does not have
the authority to require bonding owners. “That has to come from
the legislature,” he said.
Currently, the remedy for sandbag violations can be moot if the building is moved or destroyed.
Frank Jennings, division district manager in
Elizabeth City, for example, said that a notice of violation had been
issued years ago at a property off Seagull Drive in Nags Head, where
substantial storm damage included ripped apart sandbags sprawled on the
beachfront. “We were never able to enforce the violation,” Jennings
MOST 'TEMPORARY' BAGS REMAIN
Between 1996 and 2015, 349 sandbag structures
were permitted in North Carolina, said Ken Richardson, the division’s
shoreline management specialist, in an interview. Of them, 49 have been
identified as covered, 56 have been removed and 10 have been washed
out. That leaves 283 structures still installed on the coast.
Richardson said that 148 of the permits were
issued in Dare County, which has the state’s highest erosion
rates. Of them, 46 have been removed.
Most of the sandbags had been placed in South
Nags Head and Buxton. Nags Head has since nourished its beaches and no
longer allows sandbags, and the county is planning a shoreline widening
project in Buxton for next year.
Numerous other sandbag structures are located in
Pender, Brunswick and Onslow counties, mostly adjacent to inlets,
Richardson said. Sandbags are also installed in Carteret and New
Opponents to the new sandbag rules, including the
N.C. Coastal Federation, have said that they potentially could allow
sandbags to block public beach access and harm wildlife habitats.
Members of the CRC have also expressed alarm at the prospect of
sandbags stretching across the length of an island.
Greg “Rudi” Rudolph, Carteret County shore protection manager, said in
a later interview that he has been “impressed with the openness of the
dialogue” on the issue, which has been evolving. Now sandbags are
sought more at inlets, he said, rather than oceanfronts, many of which
have been or plan to be nourished.
But policy on the structures remains difficult.
“Pulling the trigger and telling property owners
they need to get the sandbags out has been tricky,” Rudolph said. “It’s
a very complex issue.”
Gorham also worried about the state’s policies on
the sand walls, although he acknowledged that “no one has been happy”
with what it has been.
“It’s an incredible balancing act,” he said in a
telephone interview. “I do not want to wake up and the legacy of the
CRC is that we have sandbags along the coast from north to south. But I
am also a property owner so I will fight like hell to protect our
property. We just need to look long term.”
Gorham said that he believes the state legislature had “good intent, but I’m not sure they had all the facts.”
No matter what measures are taken, Mother Nature is a formidable foe.
“We don’t want to keep adding and adding and
adding,” Gorham said. “I think I would prefer that sandbags are used
for emergencies. That they’re not used for sand stabilization.”
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.)