A fox in the coastal henhouse

From posts written over the course of the summer, it's clear that many BlueNC community members are big fans of the North Carolina coast. I count myself among the beach boosters, as well. Which is why it was so distressing to see our out-of-touch legislators allocate $300,000 of taxpayer money to fund a study designed to open the floodgates for jetties and groins that would harden our coastline for generations to come. Todd Miller, executive director of the NC Coastal Federation, addresses the scam on the editorial page of the N&O today.

Responding to a few well-placed influentials, the legislature rammed through the Protection Racket for Rich Homeowners who want to put jetties around their properties, even though such jetties have long been proven to put neighboring shorelines at risk. Their charade of choice? Moffitt and Nichol, a consulting firm whose revenues are inextricably tied to reengineering beaches to suit wealthy patrons.

Geology, engineering, biology and economics are all critical elements of this study. But the most important thing to evaluate is whether the commission can effectively regulate groins if it is allowed to accept permit applications for their construction.

Proving harm upfront in the permit review process will be an impossible challenge for the commission. Positive and negative consequences of projects will be hotly debated by opposing experts, and the commission will face a lot of uncertainty. When the commission can't prove upfront that a proposed project will violate one of its specific development standards, the Coastal Area Management Act gives it no choice but to issue permits. When uncertainty about compliance with development standards exists, the law requires the commission to err on the side of development over beaches.

This leaves the commission to rely on performance standards and permit conditions with promises that if things don't work out as promised, corrective actions are required. Then, when these conditions are later violated, it will go about a prolonged and expensive process of trying to fix the situation.

Meanwhile beaches become increasingly degraded and public trust rights will be lost, just as has already occurred on our beaches with the spreading use of now seemingly permanent sandbags that were originally intended to provide short-term, temporary protection for highly threatened houses.

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Any conclusion ... that finds the commission can adequately predict the impact of these proposed structures on a case-by-case basis, consistently make entirely correct permit decisions and fix problems once they are created would be a wicked April Fool's joke on the people of North Carolina who love our beaches.

And just what is the color of the fox in this particular hen house? I'd have to say it's somewhere near the color of money:

... a leading US-based global infrastructure advisor specializing in the planning and design of facilities that shape our coastlines, harbors and rivers ...

With all due respect to the mercenaries among us, North Carolina would do well to steer clear of designing facilities that "shape our coastline" - no matter how many wealthy homeowners and Senators complain about the mean old ocean encroaching on their god-given right to obstruct public beaches.

Todd Miller is right to be worried, but he's too kind by a wide margin in his criticism of the legislature's misguided scheme. Shapers of coastlines like Moffitt and Nichol are part of the problem, not part of the solution ... and their conclusions are all but foregone. Of course they'll find that small jetties are feasible, that's the business they're in. And of course the legislature will use their happy report to abandon what's good and right for millions of North Carolinians in order to take care of their rich buddies on the beach.

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For those of you who support keeping the public in public beaches, here's a petition you should sign.

For those who want to know more, watch this video.

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