Carolina University geologist Stan Riggs resigned July 24 in protest
over legislative decisions on coastal policy during the past five
years, restrictions placed on the member panel’s work and, most
recently, the commission chairman’s stated desire to reclassify
currently designated inlet hazard areas on the state’s coastal barrier
I see happening is people are not paying attention to what the science
panel has done and what’s really happening in our coastal system,”
Riggs said in a recent interview. “If we want a viable economy going
into the future and help people living out there on the coast, we have
to deal with the long term as well as the short term. We’re building
infrastructure out there for at least 100 years. Our resources are too
important for ignoring the dynamics of that system.”
panel may have up to 15 members. Five of the nine remaining members of
the panel Riggs proposed in 1996 are engineers. Riggs’ departure leaves
only three geologists on the panel, William Cleary of the University of
North Carolina Wilmington; Stephen Benton, who retired from the North
Carolina Division of Coastal Management; and Greg “Rudi” Rudolph of
Carteret County’s Shore Protection Office.
panel has been continually reorganized around trying to make a match
between coastal sedimentary geologists on one hand and coastal
engineers on the other hand,” said Charles “Pete” Peterson, a biologist
with the University of North Carolina’s Institute of Marine Sciences in
Morehead City and also a member of the panel. “Those two groups have
different ways as a whole of looking at things and analyzing things.
It’s productive to have both voices, and the panel has the capacity to
debate what the different disciplines are saying.”
named several geologists he’d like to see considered as Riggs’
replacement, including Reide Corbett of UNC’s Coastal Studies
Institute, a UNC Wilmington professor and others. “Those people are the
kind of strong coastal geologists that our panel is severely
underweighted in,” Peterson said.
said it would be an interesting offer, especially in light of the
controversy that has surrounded the panel in recent years, but he would
frustrating as it is, I still think we need that sort of science on
that panel. It’s only going to get worse if no one is there to voice
that opinion,” Corbett said of the geologists’ perspective.
said he’d also like to see another geologist appointed to the panel but
the sometimes controversial nature of the panel’s work could present
challenges. “Some don’t like the CRC because it’s more political now,”
Rudolph noted he didn’t believe members of the panel should be involved in choosing Riggs’ replacement.
not a big fan of the science panel selecting who the future science
panel members are going to be because then it’s more like a club,”
IT STARTED WITH SEA-LEVEL RISE
panel’s work on sea-level rise projections made it a political target
and thrust the state into the national spotlight in the arena of
climate science. The state General Assembly’s response to the report
confounded geologists on the panel.
said that General Assembly’s reaction to the panel’s original, 2010
sea-level rise report, which forecast up to a 39-inch rise by 2100, was
the beginning of the end for him.
original sea level report, things were still very healthy and the
science panel was working. Things were exciting. We had the support of
the division and the CRC,” Riggs said. “The atmosphere changed when
Republicans gained control in Raleigh. It was at that point where the
legislature rejected our report,” Riggs said.
there was a bill that didn’t pass that would have “outlawed sea-level
rise,” as Riggs put it. The next year, a bill did pass that put
constraints on what the state could do with respect to talking about
and planning for sea-level rise.
“That was the beginning,” Riggs said. “That’s when it sort of began to deteriorate, in my opinion.”
said the 2010 sea-level rise report with its outlook to 2100 was used
as a model by other coastal states that were behind North Carolina in
considering the implications. Here at home, the developers on the coast
also began to realize what the report could mean for them and appealed
to their representatives in Raleigh to block any rulemaking based on
really got the natives going on that was that the CRC at the time
directed its staff that all future construction had to consider that
(scenarios looking forward to 2100),” said Rudolph, who studied for his
master’s degree at ECU with Riggs as his adviser and who also worked as
Riggs’ research assistant. “The policy was the thing that got people
all riled up and screaming to the General Assembly.”
the panel continued its work, moving on to study and map inlets in
great detail. Panel members put in an “incredible amount of time,”
whole problem associated with development on the inlets was coming to a
head. We were working on (the inlet project) until the assignment came
for the 2015 sea-level rise report. It was basically dictated to us how
we had to do that,” Riggs said.
Young, a geologist in charge of the Program for the Study of Developed
Shorelines at Western Carolina University, and Antonio Rodriguez, a
geologist and geophysicist at the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences,
resigned from the panel in 2014. Both cited at the time personal
frustrations with the legislative mandates placed upon the panel,
including those guiding its work on sea-level rise. Riggs said the
dictatorial environment prompted their departures.
got too restrictive for them,” he said. “These young, bright scientists
that helped write the original report decided for their own reasons why
they didn’t want to waste their time anymore.”
updated report was due March 31, 2015, but was finished well in
advance. Once the panel completed its work on the report, it never met
again. Riggs said he had grown increasingly frustrated with the
process. The international science community had helped with the
original report but the panel was not allowed to draw from that
expertise for the 2015 update. Also, former members of the panel were
not allowed to help.
didn’t allow us to do our own science review. They did allow two
engineers to review it and they made valuable contributions to the
report,” Riggs said, adding that those contributions were no substitute
for an open review process, “which is critical for science.”
said there were also other reasons why he and other geologists
resigned. The nature of the panel had changed over the years, Riggs
said, from purely a scientific endeavor to one that now includes
members that he said may have a vested interest in coastal policy
(panel members) run major companies that make a lot of money pumping
sand and hardening shorelines. I wanted to let people know that it’s
not working very well. Everything is not copasetic in the kitchen,”
member Tom Jarrett is an engineer formerly with the Army Corps of
Engineers and now with Coastal Planning and Engineering of Wilmington.
The firm specializes in beach re-nourishment and inlet-dredging
Jarrett was appointed to the panel in 1997, while still with the Army Corps, and like Riggs is one of the original members.
retired from Corps in December 2000 and at that time the CRC didn’t see
any reason for me not to continue to serve. They elected to keep me
on,” Jarrett said. “Even though I now work for a private consulting
outfit I’ve tried to keep my views neutral. As far as any conflict of
interest, I’ve been very careful to stay out of that.”
said he’s been intimately involved in development of inlet hazard
areas, a study in which Riggs was less involved. Jarrett said he took a
leadership role in pushing for legislation to allow terminal groins to
be built on North Carolina beaches, but that’s where his role ended.
terminal groins, I admit to playing a role in getting that going, but
once the ball got rolling I didn’t take any role in it,” Jarrett said.
Jarrett also provided comments for the panel’s subsequent report on terminal groins.
commented on that but I’ve tried to be as neutral and objective as I
possibly could,” Jarrett said. “Nothing I said can be interpreted as
having benefited the private sector.”
Jarrett said serving on the panel takes a lot of time and effort, but he plans to continue to serve as long as he’s wanted.
“I’m not getting paid for it,” he said.
OTHER REMAINING MEMBERS
addition to Cleary, Jarrett, Peterson and Rudolph, the remaining
members of the panel are Margery Overton, the panel’s chairwoman, of
the Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering at
North Carolina State University; Spencer Rogers, who has geology and
engineering degrees but works as an engineer with North Carolina Sea
Grant in Wilmington; William Birkemeier, a retired engineer from the
Army Corps of Engineers; and Elizabeth Sciaudone, also of the NCSU’s
“Usually our challenge is to find enough engineers. Interestingly that’s not the mismatch at the moment,” Peterson said.
said the remaining members of the panel are “people who have
contributed mightily in their fields and are respected in their
fields.” Their philosophical differences lead to interesting debates,
“But I don’t think anybody is going to be pushed around,” Peterson said.
Gorham is chairman of the Coastal Resources Commission and has the
responsibility of appointing Riggs’ replacement on the panel. A
self-described “big science guy,” Gorham said he strives to get at
“real data” on coastal issues.
have the greatest respect and appreciate for what Stan did for the
state and I’m sorry to lose him,” Gorham said, adding that he was
pressured after the sea-level rise report to fire the entire science
panel and start from scratch.
opted not to do that. I kept Stan Riggs because I respected him,”
Gorham said. “We have to plan for a range of cases. Ten geologists in a
room will come up with 11 different answers. I am very used to
scientists disagreeing and I think that’s healthy.”
Gorham said he wants to wait on making a new appointment until after a set of priorities is established for the panel.
“Once we agree on those, then we go find the expertise,” Gorham said.
priorities could include updating erosion predictions and cycles,
particularly in designated inlet hazard areas, which Gorham would like
to rename “inlet management areas.”
have a greater erosion rates than non-inlet areas, I realize that,”
Gorham said. “It’s frustrating when people’s homes get put in an inlet
hazard area. If we called it something different than inlet hazard and
we got people to recognize the severe erosion rates …”
interrupted himself, noting that Riggs thought the decision to change
the designation meant downplaying the increased rates of erosion.
more an attempt to get people to pay attention to the study,” Gorham
said. “We had people more worried about their property value going down
and then they wouldn’t even listen to the data. I live close to an
inlet. I know there’s more instability close to inlet. We need to get
the science panel to show where an inlet has an impact.”
said subcategories within the inlet areas may be the best approach,
with updated science on erosion rates there, which would likely vary in
degrees of severity of erosion.
have to factor in man’s willingness to do beach re-nourishment and
inlet dredging,” Gorham said. “Man’s desire to keep beaches
re-nourished will offset some of the higher erosion rates that are due
to an inlet.”
THE FINAL STRAW
said the commission’s recently suggested inlet zone reclassification
was the final straw for him. Softening the definition will only
encourage irresponsible development, he said.
building on a sand pile that wasn’t there a few decades ago. That’s
crazy. We need to do a better job of managing our resources and
protecting people because sea level is changing and it’s going to have
a big effect on inlets,” Riggs said.
protégé, Rudolph, however says taking a new look at inlet hazard zones
is acceptable as a means of evaluating future risks, as long as the
panel ignores the policy implications.
the CRC wants to do the setbacks differently in inlet hazard areas,
compared to oceanfront, that’s totally their decision,” Rudolph said.
“If the CRC’s concern is that you have inlet hazard areas and it
connotes bad things and maybe that’s not what the connotation needs to
be, then that’s really up to them. Most of the inlets are pretty much
developed already. Changing the policy is going to be difficult because
you already have a bunch of structures there, but we need to look at
preventing more inlet-ward development. Setbacks moving seaward on the
oceanfront may be OK, but on inlets it’s a whole different process.
They wouldn’t have us looking at it if they weren’t thinking about
doing something different with it.”
THE HEART OF THE GROUP
Riggs wasn’t the first geologist to step down in frustration, his
departure is perhaps the greatest loss to the panel, Peterson said.
Stan is kind of like losing the heart of the group,” Peterson said.
“His seminal role in getting this established – he was the first person
they thought of to help formulate the group to speak to the many
choices we have in response to challenges in our coastal zone. His loss
will be felt in every meeting and every hour that the panel does its
78, said he plans to spend his remaining years finishing up books he’s
been writing that deal with the dynamics of coastal systems. As a
lifelong educator, he sees it as a higher calling.
can do far better working toward educating the public than I can
fighting the legislature. It takes an educated public to get a good
legislature,” Riggs said. “The decision was, what are you going to do
with the rest of your life? I’m not going to piss away any more time.
I’m not an angry person who is out to get anybody, I’m just trying to
see that we take better care of the coast.”
Sea Level Rise Study Update
Update on Beach Erosion Report
article is provided by Coastal Review Online, an online news service
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