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Beach erosion debate: Homes aren’t all that’s at risk

Salisbury resident and Ocean Isle Beach property owner Michael S. Young comments on a legislative proposal that would allow construction of terminal groins on N.C. ocean shorelines next to inlets under certain conditions.
N.C. Senate Bill 110 deals with groins built at ocean inlets. It does not permit jetties or groins in front of private property ownersí homes.
When a lot of unknowing people talk about coastal erosion issues, they context their remarks with contempt for the rich beach property owners and call beach maintenance (beach dredging of the Intracoastal Waterway and inlets and placement of sand on the beach) welfare for the rich. They talk about allowing the houses to fall into the ocean because it is inevitable.
N.C. beach tourism is the third largest industry in the state, generating billions of dollars from out of state tourists annually. This industry supports and creates hundreds of thousands of jobs. We need to frame this discussion in terms of jobs and wealth creation for North Carolina. Beach maintenance is the necessary underbelly of that industry, and it requires reinvestment from time to time. The cost of maintaining our beaches pales in comparison to the jobs created, the wealth created and tax revenue generated by beach tourism.
The people who have lost their homes on Ocean Isle Beach to the ocean were not rich. By far, most are middle to upper income. Some inherited properties, some bought as investments instead of mutual funds or 401ks, some are full-time residents who have lived on the island all of their lives. Many of those homeowners who had mortgages or were full-time residents lost everything. Some are in bankruptcy. What makes these losses truly tragic is that it was avoidable, had the town of Ocean Isle Beach been permitted to build a groin at Shallotte Inlet. Current costal policy does not allow groins at inlets dredged for navigation and commerce.
Like Interstate 85, the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway is manmade, built as a water highway for boats and shipping commerce. Both the waterway and our inlets are not natural. The beaches are not natural. They benefit from the dredged sand. The erosion on the east end of Ocean Isle Beach is partially a manmade problem caused from dredging for navigation and commerce. It is not fair to take the sand out of the inlets and not mitigate the erosion that the dredging causes. It does not make sense to spend millions of dollars to pump hundreds of millions of cubic feet of sand out of the waterway and inlets annually, only to let it wash back into the channels. It is avoidable because cost-saving groins can slow or stop the erosion process and sand loss without damaging the environment. Independent coastal scientists, geologist and engineers concur and have recommended to the Coastal Resources Commission that groins be permitted under certain conditions at our states 17 navigable inlets.
Many (environmentalists and non-coastal citizens) would say, just stop dredging, and that will fix the problem. But to stop dredging and throw in the towel on a billion-dollar industry isnít a realistic option. It is hard to have a honest discussion with people who donít understand the enormous economic engine that the beach economy is to our entire state. Vacation is serious business. Protecting the environment, business and jobs are not mutually exclusive. SB 110 is a good bill and should be adopted.

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