Download the Summer 2008 Newsletter.
2008 Report Card for the North Carolina Coast
Grades from A to D with a C+ Average, and a first for our Report, an I
The 2008 Report Card for the North Carolina Coast issued in May points to the need for reliable, dependable funding to maintain a viable coastal infrastructure to safeguard commercial and recreational assets and to ensure coastal tourism continues to bring its huge economic benefits to the whole state.
That’s the message members of the North Carolina General Assembly, the Coastal Resources Commission and other federal and state leaders received when the North Carolina Beach, Inlet and Waterway Association (NCBIWA) issued its annual grades for the past year’s performance in five key areas of concern.
There’s some opportunity for state leaders to claim bragging rights - the North Carolina Legislature was singled out for its approval of a $20 million Waterfront Access and Marine Industry Fund, scoring an “A” for the category “Public Access to Coastal Waters.”
But in another key category, the state’s leaders were told that we have all but failed to sustain important shallow draft inlets, receiving an unsatisfactory grade of “D” for the low performance, despite individual Herculean efforts by many.
“Some inlets are doing well, others are barely open,” according to the report issued by NCBIWA executive director Harry Simmons.
“Despite strong public support, there is limited funding for dredging.
Commercial fishing and charter boats are most dangerously impacted,” says the report card. Simmons warned that boater safety is at stake, while the coastal economy is exposed to unnecessary economic risks as boaters find transit between the ocean and inland waterways more and more problematic.
For the first time since the association began issuing the annual report card, an “Incomplete” grade was awarded, reflecting the tenuousness of funding, which must be fought for anew each federal budget cycle and which often receives onetime appropriations at the state and local level.
The grade of “I” was given in the category “Beaches.” Performance will be monitored in the months ahead, Simmons explained, before a final grade is awarded by the coastal association which calls itself the “One Effective Voice for the North Carolina Coast.”
“Last year we wrote the next challenge was ‘Stretching scarce dollars by making restored beaches last longer,” says the report. “(The) N.C. Senate passed a bill allowing a terminal groin pilot project to help restored beaches last longer at inlets. Now it’s up to N.C. House to concur and allow this useful tool, not just more sandbags.”
Conceivably, if the House does allow the pilot project to move forward, a final grade in that category could pull the overall average grade this year up from a “C+” to a “B.” The association last year awarded an overall grade of “B-” to elected and appointed coastal stewards.
Senate Bill 599 was passed in the 2007 legislative session to allow the Coastal Resources Commission (CRC) to permit the construction of a terminal groin pilot project to study the use of terminal groins to stabilize beaches adjacent to ocean inlets. The bill mandates that the CRC monitor and evaluate the results of the groin placement.
Terminal groins are structures installed perpendicular to the shore to help control erosion.
The experimental structure would be designed to trap sand and widen the beach to a predetermined width before allowing sand to continue its normal flows either over or around the structure. The result would be a wider, more stable beach and no sandbags. NCBIWA has supported the initiative and notes the Senate’s insistence that the benefits of the groin be weighed against any unforeseen negatives. The bill requires a bond to pay for the removal of the groin and mitigation of any external consequences if the CRC determines that the project falls short in its mission.
“Management decisions regarding sandbags, terminal groins, the Beach Inlet Management Plan, public access funding issues, etc. are all at a crossroads,” said Greg “Rudi” Rudolph, of the Carteret County Shore Protection Office, adding “Good decisions will benefit everyone and enhance natural resources.”
In another important area for the North Carolina economy, the coastal association decided a grade of “C” was in order for maintaining the usefulness of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway as it flows through the state.
Simmons said NCBIWA is supporting efforts to create a Southeastern Coastal Alliance to engage other states in appealing to all levels of government to work together on a regional basis for the benefit of the Southeast’s coastal resources. Such an Alliance could urge the Federal government to continue to shoulder its responsibility in keeping the corridor deep enough to allow continued traffic. The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway is a recreational and commercial waterway created by an act of Congress in 1919 which runs the length of the Eastern Seaboard from Maine to Miami.
Commercial users pay a fuel tax which is supposed to be dedicated to maintaining and improving the waterway, but the United States Army Corps of Engineers budget has been inadequately funded to perform that function in recent years.
Federal law provides for the waterway to be maintained at a minimum depth of 12 feet for most of its length, but shoaling and shallow water are problems along several sections of the waterway. Reports of four-foot depths in some areas in North Carolina are common.
The waterway carries considerable commercial tonnage; barges haul petroleum, foodstuffs, building materials, and manufactured goods. It is also used extensively by recreational boaters.
In the final grading area, the ongoing battle to maintain public access to beaches, especially for fishermen and other recreational users, has continued, with local governments, sportsmen’s organizations and the courts weighing in.
“We almost lost a key (beach) access at Wrightsville Beach. But thanks to many, (especially the Wrightsville Beach mayor and council) with some help from Cape Fear Surfriders, #33 was saved. That gain was (largely) offset by lost ORV (Off road Recreational Vehicle) access on the Outer Banks.”
A long-term ORV management plan must be completed by Dec. 31, 2010 under terms of a consent order in Dare and Hyde following environmental groups’ concern over the habitat of piping plovers. Under an interim management plan, night driving has been curtailed and buffer zones have been established. The plan remains unpopular with recreational users.
“North Carolina (beach) access is better than most states, but the need is growing,” according to the report card.