The North Carolina Coastal Federation submitted its comment letter on the Army Corps of Engineers’ final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on Aug. 1 regarding the proposed terminal groin at Rich Inlet near Figure Eight Island. The comment letter points out several flaws in the Corps’ analysis, including its failure to comply with parts of the National Environmental Policy Act and its understatement of the proposed terminal groin’s effect on wildlife.
The Corps announced on June 29 the start of a public comment period on the final EIS and the Figure Eight Island Homeowners Association’s permit application. However, the Corps did not make the permit application available to the public. The Southern Environmental Law Center, on the request of the federation, filed a Freedom of Information Request for the application and other pertinent documents on June 29. By the Aug. 1 comment period deadline, the SELC had not yet received a response, even though the deadline of 20 business days has passed.
The federation wants the application to be made public and for the public comment period to be extended to ensure people have time to review the permit application. This application contains necessary information on the designs of the project, the names of the engineers involved, mitigation plans for wetlands and the project’s impact to private property.
In its letter, the federation argues the Corps does not properly address concerns about the impartiality of the third party consultant hired to prepare the EIS analysis. This consultant, Coastal Planning and Engineering, had previously worked with the Figure Eight Island Homeowners Association, and the federation and others thought it might not provide an unbiased analysis.
This consultant signed a statement that said it will never work with the homeowners association during its work on the EIS. But if the permit application shows otherwise, the final EIS is no longer an unbiased document and should be thrown out.
The final EIS also fails to show the permit applicant received the necessary property rights for the project. Three homeowners on Figure Eight Island have stated they would not allow property easements for construction of the project and do not want a terminal groin on their property.
Obtaining property owners’ permission is required by state law, and the Corps should be aware that the applicant does not yet have that permission from all involved property owners. While the Corps asserted that it was not responsible for making sure obtaining permission, its rules state that the applicant must ensure it has obtained permission. When the applicant signs the permit, it is stating that it has obtained the proper permission. But based on the statements from the three owners, that does not seem to be the case.
Another flaw in the final EIS is its reliance on outdated information and unreliable modeling tools. Rich Inlet is a stable inlet and has been accreting in recent years. But the final EIS uses a model that relies on data from 1999 to 2007, when the inlet was eroding.
As a result, the analysis is faulty. Furthermore, the final EIS does not apply the same detail of analysis to all of the alternatives, indicating its preference toward construction of a terminal groin. By not thoroughly considering all alternatives, the final EIS violates NEPA’s requirements to review all options equally.
The comment letter also points out that the final EIS does little to address concerns about how a terminal groin could affect the natural environment and falls short of the inlet management requirements listed in the state’s Coastal Policy Reform Act of 2013.
The construction of the terminal groin during the winter months, for example, might displace migratory birds that stay at Rich Inlet during those months. Audubon North Carolina particularly stressed the effects a terminal groin might have on migratory birds in its comment letter.
The federation has for several years maintained its opposition to the proposed terminal groin, which is a hardened structure meant to protect beaches from erosion. However, these structures can cause unintended consequences down the shore, including habitat loss for migratory birds and sea turtles. The proposed terminal groin would also eliminate public beach areas used by thousands of people each year.
Rich Inlet is one of the last naturally-functioning inlets in the state, and the current conditions and natural dynamics of the inlet show the volume of sand is actually increasing, not decreasing. According to one study, since 1938 the inlet has only shifted within a 1,600-foot corridor, which is more stable than most inlets.
In the last 70 years, the overall trend for the inlet has been net progradation. When all the erosion periods and eroded amounts are added together and subtracted from the accretion periods and accreted amounts, there is a positive result, meaning that the north end of the island has accreted more than it has eroded.
For more information about Rich Inlet or the federation’s comment letter on the final EIS, please contact Ana Zivanovic-Nenadovic at firstname.lastname@example.org or Mike Giles at email@example.com. Additional information can also be found at saverichinlet.org.
- Read the comment letter on the final EIS from the federation.
- Read the comment letter on the final EIS from the Southern Environmental Law Center.
- Read the comment letter on the final EIS from Audubon North Carolina.
- Read the comment letter on the final EIS from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
- Read the comment letter on the final EIS from the Office of Environmental Compliance and Policy in the U.S. Department of Interior.