Taking new chances on new sand

Published 6:24 pm Tuesday, April 3, 2007

By Staff
(This editorial originally appeared in the Star-News of Wilmington.)
Hundreds of new houses could rise on North Carolina’s renourished beaches in coming years, making lot owners and tax collectors as happy as clams in an incoming tide. The question is how long the houses can stand in that tide.
Under political pressure from local officials, landowners and developers, a unanimous N.C. Coastal Resources Commission has moved to weaken one of its most prudent rules. It required oceanfront houses to be built behind the first line of established vegetation. The line remained in place even if the beach was widened with pumped-in sand and the vegetation moved seaward.
The goal was to prevent construction dangerously close to the Atlantic’s wild waves. When oceanfront houses come apart, their remains can become battering rams that smash into other buildings. Taxpayers get billed for evacuation, cleanup and the repair of roads and utility lines.
But with hundreds of lots rendered unbuildable by the setback rule, the CRC could no longer fend off a storm surge of money. There was too much money to be made by building, too much tax money to be collected. Oak Island politicians, for example, were threatening to ask the General Assembly to overrule the CRC if it didn’t overrule itself.
So it did.
We are told that the new rule will require beach towns to keep pumping sand onto strands that are eroding in front of houses on formerly unbuildable lots.
But sand is sometimes scarce, and money always is.
The feds don’t want to help us pay multimillion-dollar renourishment bills anymore. Even state legislators often fail to understand the logic of keeping beaches maintained — despite the fact that they probably enjoy visiting them, and the state benefits from the jobs and taxes they generate.
Maybe the weaker rule will work out just fine. But it’s a gamble — and not just for the people who build on these iffy spots of sand. If they lose, we all lose.