The north end of Figure Eight Island is a popular place in the summer. Boaters drop anchor on the spit there to enjoy the sun, the sandy beach and the beauty of Rich Inlet. It’s likely to become a very dangerous place if the homeowners on the island build their seawall and small jetty.

The huge sand spit that now forms the end of Figure Eight will be completely gone within a few years after the groin is built. That’s not our opinion. It is exactly what’s predicted by the project’s paid consultants in the impact study they prepared.

Come hear it for yourself Thursday at a public hearing on the draft environmental impact statement that will be held at Ogden Elementary School, 3637 Middle Sound Loop Rd., in New Hanover County starting at 6:30 p.m.

The Figure Eight Island Homeowners Association wants to build a 900-foot long sheet pile and rock seawall and a 700-foot long terminal groin that will become the island’s shoreline from sound to sea at Rich Inlet. The purpose of the seawall and terminal groin is to protect a few dozen oceanfront homes.

Sand is pumped on the north end of Figure Eight Island during a beach re-nourishment project.

Before the groin and seawall receive the necessary federal permits, the Army Corps of Engineers must first produce a study that outlines alternatives to the project and describes its consequences. The same consultants that the homeowners association may hire to design the project, prepare permit applications and oversee its construction prepared the draft of this study for the Corps.

Yes, these are the very same consultants who have been working with island homeowners for many years to conduct beach studies and beach fill projects and promote a state law to allow for a groin at Rich Inlet. Such structure were illegal in North Carolina until last year when the N.C. General Assembly passed a law last year to allow up to four of these jetties  at inlets along the beach.

Though the study is required to look at various alternatives, guess at what solution it recommends. That’s right, a terminal groin. Imagine that.

And it’s not even a very good study. We are quite disturbed after our preliminary review of all the inconsistencies, flaws in logic and bogus claims. The study’s deep-seated bias towards groins makes it virtually worthless.

Here are just a few of study’s flaws:

  • It predicts naively that the terminal groin and 4,000 feet of beach fill will prevent all property from damage over the next 30 years along more than 12,000 feet of shoreline.  This ignores catastrophic erosion from large storms that cannot be prevented by a groin and beach fill.
  • It proposes to hold the terminal groin harmless even if massive amounts of erosion occur on the northern half of the island over the next 30 years.
  • It contains many errors and inconsistencies including two very different descriptions of its preferred terminal groin alternative. One version claims that beach re-nourishment will be needed over 4,000 feet of beach every five years, and a second description states that re-nourishment may be needed over as much longer stretch of beach every four years. This discrepancy has significant implications regarding the cost of maintaining the groin.
  • It contains a cost and benefit analysis that fails to include realistic property damage estimates for all alternatives, thus unfairly skewing the analysis in favor of the terminal groin option since it does not account for property damage and added beach re-nourishment that is likely to occur as a result of storms.
  • It shows that the preferred alternative will adversely modify designated critical habitat for the federally listed piping plover in violation of the Endangered Species Act.
  • It overstates the costs of moving the inlet channel in Rich Inlet compared to what it actually cost to move inlet channels at Mason and Bogue Inlets especially if the inlet is not relied upon as a source of sand for beach re-nourishment.

The federation will submit extensive written comments on the draft EIS by the comment deadline on July 6. We’ll go into greater depth on these and other flaws in the study. I’ll be sure to post that letter here when it’s done.

— Mike Giles, coastal advocate