The shifting sands of beach renourishment
By Michael S. Young
For the Salisbury Post
Calling it the “New Jerseyization of our beaches” while demonizing coastal engineers, geologists and environmentalists are lining up to oppose terminal groins and jetties to save endangered homes along the N.C. coast (N.C. Senate Bill 599-Inlet Stabilization Pilot Program).
While playing the Yankee card works well to stir negative connotations, it ignores the fact Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia and Maryland are doing what New Jersey has done to protect property ó and it works. So why do these guys appeal to emotion instead of facts? Since the inception of North Carolina’s policy of prohibiting hardened structures on the oceanfront, the problems facing Ocean Isle Beach and a host of other coastal communities have been exacerbated.
Instead of jetties, groins, sandbags and seawalls, environmentalists and geologists favor the practice of pumping billions of cubic yards of sand out of the Intracoastal Waterway and its inlets up onto the beaches. Using money from federal, state and local governments, communities up and down the N.C. coast are spending hundreds of millions of tax dollars to pump sand across the islands for up to a half-mile or more through giant rubber pipes.
The strategic placement of the dredged sand on the beaches of our barrier islands is cleverly called “beach renourishment.” The practice creates mile upon mile of dead beaches made up of sand, ground-up shells, blobs of clay and other debris from the deeps. It must be done every three to five years as needed to protect the beach and oceanfront homes. Why? Because it simply washes away.
So ask the geologists and environmentalists what is more egregious ó a sea jetty slowing down the movement of that newly placed sand or the unsustainable cost of pumping billions of cubic yards of sand to create dead beaches year after year after year?
The ongoing destruction of millions of dollars of homes is a result of both natural and man-made erosion. The homeowners adjacent to the inlets, like the ones at Ocean Isle Beach, have no recourse. As more and more sand is sucked out of the inlets and waterways to renourish the beaches in the center of the island, homes on the ends of the islands fall into the ocean. It turns out that for some homeowners on the islands, beach renourishment is the problem, not the solution.
Let’s be clear. We are not talking about allowing developers to create oceanfront property with manmade hardened structures. We are talking about putting jetties and groins in erosion-prone areas where existing older homes are threatened.
Most people do not realize that private insurance and federal flood insurance do not cover loss due to erosion. There is no reason not to use a jetty or groin if it will do no harm to adjacent beaches. As an east end property owner at Ocean Isle Beach, I will be the first to admit that building on a barrier island is ludicrous. But that is a moot point. The North Carolina coast and its barrier islands are an international tourist destination. The answer to beach erosion is not as black-and-white.
The prudent use of limiting building permits in erosion-prone areas (to mitigate future problems), the use of jetties, groins and sandbags where needed, and the periodic pumping of sand known as beach renourishment all must be available for use by coastal communities as tools to protect and preserve our islands and their homes.
From now on, let’s call it the South Carolina-ization of our beaches.
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Michael Young lives in Salisbury. This article previously appeared in the Brunswick Beacon.