RALEIGH — A move by coastal senators to scuttle a two-year-old compromise on the use of terminal groins to halt beach erosion has gotten a cold reception from the McCrory Administration.
Michelle Walker, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said the department is opposed to the effort to undo legislation passed in 2011 that allowed for four terminal groins and included environmental safeguards and restrictions on how they can be financed. The compromise also spelled out the liability of local governments for any damage the structures might cause.
A senate bill passed on May 15 lifts the cap on the number of groins, relaxes rules on financial responsibility, drops a requirement that financing for the projects be approved by local referendum and guts provisions to protect public beaches.
Sen. Bill Rabon
Sen. Harry Brown
“Essentially, we feel the original legislation should be allowed to stand,” Walker said.
The four projects — Ocean Isle Beach, Figure Eight Island, Bald Head Island and Holden Beach — are still not close to being permitted, she said. They are currently undergoing the required federal environmental review and none has applied for state permits.
“We want to see how those work out before opening up the rest of the coast,” Walker said.
She said there had been high level discussions between DENR officials and the governor’s office over the senate bill.
Ryan Tronovitch, a McCrory spokesman, confirmed that the changes do not have the governor’s support.
“The office is opposed to it,” he said and supports DENR’s position to stick with the plans laid out in the 2011 compromise.
Todd Miller welcomes the governor’s opposition. He’s the executive director of the N.C. Coastal Federation, which has opposed allowing seawalls, jetties, groins and other types of hard structures on the state’s beaches to prevent erosion.
“We support the process outlined in the compromise bill because it provides strong protections for the environment and taxpayers,” Miller said. “We’re happy that the governor thinks so as well.”
The groin language is part of the omnibus Coastal Policies Reform Act of 2013, which was introduced by Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, and has the strong backing from Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow.
In floor debate both men forcefully defended the bill, successfully fighting off amendments to restore rules on bonds to cover potential damages and the referendum requirements.
Rabon said the financial requirements in the 2011 legislation were too restrictive and that the bill does require the towns to cover the cost of removal if the groins don’t function properly.
Both he and Brown said it was time for the legislature to stop meddling in measures to protect coastal property owners.
“It seems like you want to get involved in all the issues on the coast and try to block them all for the very people who live there,” Rabon told his colleagues.
“We’ve got four communities that want to build them, but you can’t build them because we’ve made it so restrictive that nobody can jump through the hoops,”
Brown, who noted he’d been working on the issue since he first came to the senate, said, “It’s time that we allow some of these be built.”
He said the state would save money if the groins can slow down the need for beach re-nourishment projects.
“As a General Assembly we have spent millions of dollars to help with beach nourishment and I have argued for years that groins will save so many dollars in nourishment projects in the long run because you can backfill those groins and nourish those beaches and they’ll stay there for a long time,” he said.
Brown didn’t cite any scientific evidence that these small jetties would reduce the need for beach re-nourishment. A state study of the structures in 2010 noted that sand would still have to be pumped onto beaches annually for the groins to be effective.
“Terminal groins are typically constructed as part of a broader beach management plan and may make nourishment adjacent to inlets feasible,” the study notes, “but they do not eliminate the need for ongoing beach nourishment.”
The bill awaits action in the N.C. House. Opposition from DENR and McCrory would seem to dampen its chances of passing in its current form. Neither Rabon nor Rep. Pat McElraft, R-Carteret, and chairwoman of the House Environment Committee, returned requests for comment.
The bill may have a tougher time in the House as opposition grows. This week, two more prominent voices joined the discussion. Former Rep. Carolyn Justice, a Republican from Pender County, and John Hood, John Locke Foundation president, penned an op-ed for the Wilmington Star-News opposing the new bill and supporting the 2011 compromise. Justice was the chief House negotiator on the compromise, working with Brown and others to hammer out an agreement with Gov. Bev Perdue. The Locke Foundation is the most influential conservative think-tank in the state.
“The 2011 bill included many safeguards to ensure that these jetties were limited in number and that the planning for them was done carefully,” they wrote. “Most of those safeguards are swept away by the 2013 bill. Even more disturbing is the way the 2013 bill wipes out most of the taxpayer protections in the 2011 law.”