Reprinted from the Tideland News of Swansboro
RALEIGH — Although there have been rumors a that compromise might be in the works, a controversial bill to lift most restrictions on building small jetties called terminal groins along the state’s beaches has not moved out of committee since Gov. Pat McCrory voiced his opposition early last month.
Ryan Tronovitch, McCrory’s deputy communications director, said last month that the governor and the state Department of Environment, Health and Natural Resources are “for the most part happy with the 2011 compromise law” that allowed construction of groins at four inlets “and prefer to wait and see how that works out before changes are made.”
Senate Bill 151, sponsored by Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, passed the state Senate on April 15 and was referred to the House Committee on the Environment. Although it seemed to be sailing smoothly, the bill hit rough water in the House.
Sen. Bill Rabon
The legislation would lift the cap of four groins that was set in the compromise passed in 2011 and would allow multiple structures at each of the state’s 14 inlets. The bill also removes many of the environmental and economic safeguards included in the previous legislation.
Groins are small jetties that are usually built of stone or rock and extend into the water, perpendicular to the shore. They are designed to trap sand that moves along the beach. While they can be successful in building up limited sections of a beach, groins can also increase erosion elsewhere along the beach. They and other types of hard structures, such as seawalls, had been illegal along the state’s beaches until the 2011 law allowed up to four projects.
Groins have since been planned on Figure Eight and Bald Head islands and in Ocean Isle Beach and Holden Beach. The projects are in various stages of planning and review and none has applied for state permits. Proponents of the new bill, however, say that the strict requirements of the 2011 legislation are the major reasons.
The rumored compromise would reinstate the four-groin cap, but require only that those who build groins prove in advance that they have the money to remove the structures if they fail. The 2011 law also required applicants to provide bonds for long-term maintenance or for fixing any damages the structures might cause to nearby beaches or buildings.
Todd Miller, executive director of the N.C. Coastal Federation, the Carteret County-based organization that has long fought to prohibit groins and other hard erosion-control structures along the state’s oceanfront, said recently he was happy to hear the governor and the environmental agency opposed the bill and hopes the legislation is permanently stalled.
“This bill essentially guts the compromise bill on groins that was carefully crafted after much debate in 2011,” he said. “It essentially would open the door for groin fields. It would be a disaster for the coast.”
Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, sponsored the 2011 bill and lauded its environmental safeguards at the time, noting that the bill protects the state’s beaches and taxpayers. It prohibited state money from being used to build groins unless the N.C. General Assembly approved it and it required in most cases a referendum if towns or counties wanted to use local taxpayer money to pay for a groin project. The new bill removes those provisions.
“That (the 2011 bill) was an attempt at a responsible piece of legislation,” Miller said. “This new bill removes all accountability. It allows these damaging structures to be built anywhere, with no regard for what they might do to public beaches.”
Particularly troublesome, Miller said, is the bill’s elimination of the requirement that a local government hold a referendum to spend local money on a groin project. “These are multi-million dollar projects that primarily would benefit a few property owners at the expense of the public beach,” he said.
Rabon has said the groins could reduce the amount of inlet dredging and could save taxpayers money in the long run. He and other proponents of groins contend they cause little or no damage.
He also has said the financial requirements in the 2011 bill were too restrictive and has noted that the bill does require the towns to cover the cost of removal if the groins don’t function properly.
If the new bill passes, Miller said, those who oppose hard structure on the state’s beaches would most likely have to turn to the the courts and to the federal government. Efforts to stop projects at the federal level would likely hinge on the potential for the loss of natural habitat at the project sites, he said.