Archived Story

Eroding away: ECU geologist worried rules will be weakened

Published 5:12pm Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The N.C. Coastal Resources Commission’s Science Panel on Coastal Hazards’ meeting to continue its study of the feasibility of eliminating the Inlet Hazard Areas of Environmental Concern has been postponed.


The meeting had been scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday at the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ regional office, 943 Washington Square Mall. The panel provides scientific advice to the state Coastal Resources Commission. The 15-member science panel was created by the Coastal Resources Commission in 1997 and is composed of coastal engineers and geologists.


That study and future appointments to the panel have Stan Riggs, a panel member and geologist with East Carolina University, more than a little concerned about future protection of the coastal environment.


Riggs questions if the panel will be able to finish its work.


“Actually, it’s unclear if we’re going to be allowed to talk about that anymore. There’s a new CRC, and they are desperately trying to eliminated what the science panel is doing,” Riggs said before the meeting was postponed Tuesday. “They’ve thrown us totally under the train. I don’t think anybody has a clue as to what is going to happen. Well, somebody may have a clue, but the scientists attending that meeting do not have clue. The future, I think, is very uncertain.”


Riggs believes the new Republican administration and the Republican-controlled General Assembly in Raleigh are moving toward weakening coastal environmental regulations to open coastal areas to more development.


“There’s no question about what this Legislature wants to do, and that’s get rid of the science. They absolutely do not want science,” Riggs said. “There’s been a lot of questions asked why are we even meeting. The chair of the CRC and the (Division of) Coastal Management people have tried to assure us to not to worry about that and that they need us very badly. So, we’ve got a major conflict developing here. It’s clear what the Legislature’s trying to do.”


Riggs plans to attend the meeting, but he’s not sure what to expect once it begins.


“Who knows what’s going to happen at this meeting. They may just tell us to go back home,” Riggs said. “We’ve already had several people quit the science panel because they didn’t want to play these games anymore. … They’re going to appoint some new members. By they, I’m not sure who they are. It’s probably the CRC and the Legislature, maybe the governor. They have a list of people who are not scientists they want on the new panel to rewrite the sea-level report. I say that will be the big crisis the will cause the failure of the whole system. It’s a sad day for the coastal people who live down there and deserve to know what’s happening, how it’s happening. … These resources are too valuable to allow developers to go whole hog and fill all the marshes and kill all the fish. If you don’t have sand on the beach and fish in clean water, you don’t have an economy. What’s going to happen now that they’ve taken all the rules off the table?”


The panel’s study of the feasibility of eliminating the Inlet Hazard Area of Environmental Concern is a legislative mandate.




“This is from House Bill 819, not from the most-recent legislative session but from last year. It’s the same bill that required the commission to do the sea-level rise study,” said Michele Walker, spokeswoman for the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.


“What they are looking at is using the adjacent ocean erodible area. The ocean erodible area adjacent to the inlets would be extended into the inlets if they did eliminate the inlet hazard area. That’s what they kind of are looking at doing for development standards. Inlet hazard areas have different development standards than ocean erodible areas,” Walker said. “That is what they will be talking about on Thursday.”


Others have weighed in on the IHAEC matter.


A document prepared by Julia M. Knisel and Stephen B. Benton, with the N.C. Division of Coastal Management, and Margery F. Overton, with N.C. State University, that partly reads: “More than 20 years have passed and development and transportation infrastructure are at risk in North Carolina. Coastal managers require a new assessment of inlet and adjacent shoreline changes to revise IHAEC, develop more effective regulations and inform the public of risks.”








What are Inlet Hazard Areas of Environmental Concern?



North Carolina passed the Coastal Area Management Act in 1974 and then developed regulations in 1978 to limit development in coastal environments.


Inlet Hazard Areas of Environmental Concern were defined as natural-hazard areas that are vulnerable to erosion, flooding and other adverse effects of sand, wind and water because of their proximity to dynamic ocean inlets. The open ocean shoreline of North Carolina maintains 21 inlets. Shorelines adjacent to inlets are affected by changes in sediment distribution and inlet morphology. An inlet migration study was conducted in 1978 to facilitate the delineation of IHAEC.


Areas of Environmental Concern are the foundation of the Coastal Resources Commission’s permitting program for coastal development. An AEC is an area of natural importance. It may be easily destroyed by erosion or flooding; or it may have environmental, social, economic or aesthetic values that make it valuable to the state.


The Coastal Resources Commission designates areas as AECs to protect them from uncontrolled development, which may cause irreversible damage to property, public health or the environment, thereby diminishing their value to the entire state. The CRC has set up four categories of AECs:


• estuarine and ocean system;


• ocean hazard system;


• public water supplies;


• natural and cultural resource areas.


AECs cover almost all coastal waters and less than 3 percent of the land in the 20 coastal counties.


— Mike Voss


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