By Todd Miller

The N.C. Coastal Federation is opposed to hard erosion control structures like groins and seawalls along the oceanfront and inlets. Setting back development, moving endangered buildings and buying time for existing development by renourishing beaches or managing the location of inlet channels provide more environmentally sound alternatives for high hazard locations. The federation provides extensive comments to regulatory agencies, local governments, homeowners and others that evaluate proposed terminal groin projects.

The final Environmental Impact Study for the $18 million terminal groin project for Bald Head Island at the mouth of the Cape Fear River was issued in August by the Army Corps of Engineers. Accompanying the final study is what’s called a “Section 7 review” by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It evaluates if there are any possible adverse effects from the project on endangered species. Required before a final study is issued, the review did not find significant threats to endangered species or their habitats.

The 16 sand-bag groins placed on Bald Head Island have done little to ease the erosion problem. Photo: Olsen Associates Inc.

We asked independent scientists if they agreed with this assessment. Everyone agrees this location is not critical habitat unlike most inlets in N.C. The deep ship channel that is dredged just offshore of the project site has done a pretty good job over the years of eliminating this location’s habitat values.

Instinctively, we think that a terminal groin is a bad idea, and we doubt it will work to hold back the sea. We also don’t like the fact that this will become the 17th groin built on this beach. Sixteen big sand tube groins placed here two decades ago (and replaced several times) have not resolved the erosion problems plaguing the island.  In addition, there may even be future plans to build more groins along the Cape Fear River shoreline if this new project doesn’t stop the erosion.

That said, the federation is not going to formally object to the Bald Head project. We continue to think it won’t solve the island’s erosion issues, but we aren’t overly concerned that it will cause significant new environmental harm to the area. Local taxpayers have voted to spend their own money to build and maintain the project, and there should not be any cost to state and federal taxpayers. We will focus our time and resources on protecting more productive and natural inlet habitats elsewhere along our coast.

We will evaluate and report through Coastal Review Online how this project performs and its ongoing costs, and make sure it provides a valuable learning opportunity for everyone concerned about the future of our beaches.

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