The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) submitted a comment letter regarding living shorelines to the Army Corps of Engineers. The letter was written on behalf of the North Carolina Coastal Federation and other groups. The federation will also be submitting an additional letter in the next few days.
SELC recommends the retirement of Nationwide Permit 13 (NWP 13) which addresses shoreline stabilization methods. The language of NWP 13 makes it easier to install hardened structures as a form of erosion control over living shorelines, a natural alternative that protects marsh habitat and function. It also does not properly consider the extent of damage caused by bulkheads and other hardened structures used for erosion control.
The comment letter also recommends Nationwide Permit B (NWP B) as a replacement. NWP B covers natural erosion control methods. This recommendation prioritizes erosion methods that have minimal environmental impact.
Hardened structures harm shoreline ecosystems, habitats and vital salt marsh, and thus many vulnerable bird, turtle and plant species. Piping Plovers, Red Knots, Roseate Terns and sea turtle nests are only a few of the many disturbed habitats.
In addition to habitat disruption, bulkheads actually lead to more erosion. The increased erosion leads to the need for more shoreline protection, which opens the gate for more bulkhead construction. Conversely, living shorelines hold up in strong weather events and protect marshes. Marsh systems actually help prevent erosion, making their protection a vital part of erosion control.
NWP 13 re-authorization would be in violation of various sections of the Clean Water Act (CWA), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and the Endangered Species Act (ESA). For instance, the Corps cannot reauthorize NWP 13 without violating various legal guidelines of CWA Section 404(b)(1), such as the guideline that states an NWP cannot have more than a “minimal adverse effect.” As of now, NWP 13 says that a 500-foot bulkhead has minimal effects, but extensive scientific research proves otherwise.
NWP 13 requires new wording if reauthorized. The alternative wording for NWP 13 would allow bulkheads and other structures only when conditions are unfavorable for living shorelines, such as high-energy conditions and areas with excessive erosion problems. The alternative wording makes living shorelines the default stabilization method.
The SELC says that NWP B will encourage living shorelines as the first line of defense for shoreline stabilization, rather than bulkheads. The SELC recommends that NWP 13 be retired, or at least reworked, so it actually has a minimal environmental impact. The current language of NWP 13 allows for adverse impacts on shorelines, and in the long run, will lead to habitat degradation and worsened erosion.
The federation encourages the use of living shorelines over other erosion control methods. Living shorelines work with nature and protect critical habitats, and the federation has constructed many living shorelines along the North Carolina coast. In partnership with Restore America’s Estuaries and with funding from the Environmental Protection Agency, the federation has also developed Living Shorelines Academy. This initiative is designed to provide targeted outreach and training to homeowners, contractors, design professional and regulators to advance the appropriate use of living shorelines.
For more information about living shoreline regulation, please contact Ana Zivanovic-Nenadovic at (252) 393-8185 or visit nccoast.org/livingshorelines.