RALEIGH — With just a fraction of its membership seated, the state’s Coastal Resources Commission decided to postpone this week’s meeting in Nags Head, which would have been the first since a sweeping overhaul of its membership and structure.
The commission was trimmed from 15 to 13 members and all but four of its existing members were fired under a provision in this year’s budget bill. The four met recently in a hastily called special session to discuss a court ruling about its sandbag rules, but officials with the state’s Division of Coastal Management said it made sense to delay the regular meeting given the lack of members.
Michelle Walker, a spokeswoman for the division, said unlike the court case, in which the commission was under a court imposed deadline to act, delaying the meeting until more members are appointed won’t have a major effect Attorneys with the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the division’s parent agency, determined last month that the commission’s bylaws allow it to meet with only four members. The bylaws define a quorum as a majority of duly sworn-in members.
Gov. Pat McCrory
“We could have met, but we felt that for the normal business of the commission we needed to wait until we had more members,” she said.
Walker said the division contacted applicants requesting variances to CRC rules to reschedule hearings on their requests. The board, she said, could meet at its next scheduled meeting December 11-13, but given the large numbers of new members that date is still up in the air.
Gov. Pat McCrory will appoint the bulk of the remaining members, but Walker said there has been no word yet on when those names will be announced. Division officials, she said, are working to be able to move quickly in getting new members up to speed.
“Once we have a full commission, we feel we can pick up and move forward, hopefully without a lot of delay,” Walker said.
Among the items at the top of the to-do list is the appointment of the revised Coastal Resources Advisory Council. The budget bill ended the terms of its 45 sitting members, dropped the membership to 20 and moved appointment authority for it from the governor to the CRC.
The dormancy of the CRC is a growing concern for environmental advocates, especially given the commission’s agenda before the legislative actions. A major update of the commission’s work on sea-level rise, new rules on bulkheads and development of criteria for inlet management plans are all slated for review by the commission in the coming year.
Todd Miller, the executive director of the N.C. Coastal Federation, said the slow pace of appointments and the lack of work being done by the commission are troubling.
“This further weakens its role as the public body that makes coastal management policy in N.C.,” he said. “The coastal management program is supposed to be proactive and address issues before they become a crisis. The CRC is essentially out of business.”
The delay could drag on. Once appointments are made, applicants go through a lengthy ethics review process. Two new appointees designated in July by Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, have yet to be official join the commission as a result. Harry Simmons, Caswell Beach’s mayor, and Marc Hairston of Onslow County can’t be sworn in until they clear an ethics review required of all new appointees.
Representatives with governor’s office declined to respond to requests for information on the timeline for appointees.
The sandbags at The Riggings after Superstorm Sandy passed the N.C. coast last year.
Miller said he and others are also worried that the only official act of the CRC since the budget bill took effect might be subject to challenge.
The CRC met with its attorneys on Aug. 26 and forwarded a recommendation to the state solicitor general to move ahead with an appeal in the Riggings case, which centers on CRC’s insistence that the Riggings condominium complex remove a sandbag wall in Kure Beach erected in 1985.
The bylaw rule used to establish a quorum is likely to become part of a challenge by the complex’s owners, Miller said. “Time will tell to see if the CRC’s decision — made by the four people left — to appeal the Riggings case is thrown out by the courts because of the lack of a legal quorum.”
While the CRC waits on new members, another board affected by the budget bill did resume work this month.
Newly appointed members of the Environmental Management Commission met for the first time Sept. 12. The entire membership of the board was changed under a budget provision and its membership dropped from 15 to 13.
New members are David W. Anderson, Charles Carter, Jerry Carroll Tommy Craven, E.O. Ferrell, Benne C. Hutson (chair), Steve Keen, Steve Tedder, Kevin Martin, Bill Puette, Dr. Albert Rubin and Clyde E. “Butch” Smith.