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Posted on Fri, Feb. 20, 2004

Budget Cuts Force North Carolina Officials Seek New Ways to Ease Beach Erosion

Star-News, Wilmington, N.C. Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

With continued federal funding of beach renourishment projects looking tenuous at best, Brunswick County beach officials want to take another look at what other beach-building options exist.

While members of the Brunswick Beaches Consortium hope Congress can reverse the White House's plan to cut funding to most beach-boosting projects, officials Thursday said allowing soft or temporary hardened beachfront structures could be a way for North Carolina's coastal communities to help themselves.

"It can't hurt to take a look at the technology, another opportunity for us to see what's out there," said consortium chairman and Caswell Beach Mayor Harry Simmons.

But the N.C. Division of Coastal Management has a long history of frowning upon hardened structures, such as groins, along the state's beaches.

Acting Director Charles Jones said the thinking behind the ban is that hardened structures protect or build up one section of beach by catching sand intended for adjacent areas, thereby simply relocating -- and not solving -- erosion problems.

About the only hardened structures regularly allowed by the state are sandbags, but only as a temporary measure until a permanent solution -- such as a renourished beach -- is found.

"We think the law is clear and designed to be clear about what is and isn't allowed along our beaches," Mr. Jones said.

But with President Bush calling for a dramatic policy shift in how the federal government views beach projects, officials said every granule of beach sand is seen as critical.

"This is the biggest setback I've seen since I've gotten involved in this," Mr. Simmons said, "and it's going to take a lot of work to get over it."

Mr. Simmons, who also is president of the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association, said he's been working on beach issues since the late 1990s.

Only four North Carolina communities -- Wrightsville, Carolina and Kure Beaches in New Hanover County and Ocean Isle Beach in Brunswick County -- are on the federal list for periodic sand booster shots.

But almost all of the state's other coastal communities, including those in Pender, Brunswick, Carteret and Dare counties, are clamoring to get on the 50-year-cycle of guaranteed beach renourishments.

There could, however, be more immediate problems for the coastal communities.

Along with proposing to shift most renourishment cost from federal to local sources, President Bush also has cut most beach-related spending -- including preproject feasibility and survey studies -- out of his proposed fiscal year 2005 budget.

Dean Mitchell, chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre, D-N.C., said Congress is mobilizing to restore the funding, though.

While constructing groins won't replace the impact of a beach renourishment project, the local officials said such steps could offer short-term help.

David Nash, coastal management expert with the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service, said he saw several displays at a recent Florida conference that he thought offered promise.

One involved a soft groin field, made up of the same material as in sand fences, which protrude from the beach into the ocean. The "passive" groins would be removed to prevent conflicts during sea turtle nesting season or the busy warm-weather tourist months.

Another idea involved reef balls dropped just offshore that would break the wave's energy, thereby dampening its erosive impact on the beach.

The consortium, which is made up of officials from the county and Brunswick's six beach towns, decided to seek more information from the engineering companies and possibly invite them to make presentations.

Mr. Simmons said Coastal Management has allowed the testing of small-scale projects before, but that there haven't been many pitched in recent years.


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2004, Star-News, Wilmington, N.C. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.

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