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N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources

NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Coastal Management - Cumulative Secondary Impacts

Coastal Management

 

Cumulative & Secondary Impacts

The Division of Coastal Management is attempting to identify and manage the cumulative and secondary impacts that coastal development has on valuable coastal resources such as fish and shellfish, wetlands, public trust areas and water quality. The Coastal Area Management Act (CAMA) has accomplished much in mitigating site-specific impacts through the permitting process for individual development projects. But the cumulative and secondary impacts of numerous relatively small projects -- which alone may have had relatively minor impacts -- have become significant over time.

What are cumulative and secondary impacts?

The term “cumulative impacts or effects” is generally used to describe the phenomenon of changes in the environment that result from numerous human-induced, small-scale alterations. Secondary or indirect impacts are defined as effects that are “caused by and result from the activity although they are later in time or further removed in distance, but still reasonably foreseeable.” Cumulative impacts can be thought of as occurring through two main pathways: first, through persistent additions or losses of the same materials or resource, and second, through the compounding effects as a result of the coming together of two or more effects.

The following table traces a few examples of human-induced environment alterations through their potential direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts.

 

Human actions

Environmental effect and impacts

Project/activity

 

Direct impacts

 

Indirect impacts

 

Cumulative impacts

Poorly planned urban development (e.g., roads, residential dev., docks, marinas, bulkheads)

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Disruption of wildlife habitat

Increased area of impervious surface

Loss of wetlands

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Increased stormwater runoff

Increased sedimentation of streams

Increased freshwater flow into estuary

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Decline in water quality

Decrease in growth rate and size of commercial shellfish

Increased shellfish closures

 

What does CAMA say about cumulative and secondary impacts?

For proposed projects within an AEC requiring a permit: CAMA {113A-120(10)} allows the responsible official or body to deny an application for a permit upon finding that “the proposed development would contribute to cumulative effects that would be inconsistent” with prior stated guidelines. CAMA defines cumulative effects as "impacts attributable to the collective effects of a number of projects," including "the effects of additional projects similar to the requested permit in areas available for development in the vicinity." (Please see CAMA for a full reading of 133A-120.)

There are obstacles to using the permitting process to identify and manage these complicated impacts. They include lack of guidance to permitting officials on how to determine if an individual project will significantly contribute to or increase cumulative or secondary impacts to regional resources, and lack of scientific study to support potential permitting decisions.

Beyond permitting -- proactive management of cumulative and secondary impacts

Coastal managers are recognizing the value of addressing cumulative and secondary impacts, not only in the context of permitting individual projects, but also in the context of land-use planning. CAMA’s new guidelines for land use plans allow communities to set goals for environmental sustainability, incorporating cumulative impact trends. These guidelines also encourage communities to guide development based on an analysis of land suitability, natural systems constraints and availability of infrastructure and capacity. The community’s goals would be based on its unique resources and management needs and will translate into a better-planned and sustainable community with less impact on valuable coastal resources and their important natural functions.

What is DCM doing to identify and manage cumulative and secondary impacts?

DCM’s current effort to address cumulative and secondary effects of development draws from experience gained during earlier studies. Public meetings in May 1993 revealed “a public perception that cumulative impacts of growth and development over the last 20 years have adversely affected coastal resources in spite of the AEC system established to protect those resources. The following two publications provided a starting point for current endeavors:

Wuenscher, 1994.Managing Cumulative Impacts in the North Carolina Coastal Area: A Report of the Strategic Plan for Improving Coastal Management in North Carolina.

North Carolina Sea Grant, 1996.Protecting Coastal Resources from Cumulative Impacts: An Evaluation of the North Carolina Coastal Area Management Act.

Coastal Management currently is involved in several activities to identify and manage cumulative and secondary impacts:

  • Integration of cumulative and secondary impact concepts and evaluation techniques into CAMA land-use planning, permit reviews and coastal policy development.

  • Formulation of watershed level studies to develop thresholds of significance for coastal resources. Thresholds of significance may be quantitative or qualitative thresholds that represent the point at which a given cumulative environmental impact will be considered significant. Thresholds can be used in both project permitting and land use planning to mitigate the cumulative and secondary effects of development on coastal resources.

  • Participation in Departmental level efforts in developing guidance for assessing cumulative and secondary impacts in the SEPA process, and for considering these impacts in resource management programs of various DENR Divisions.

  • Development of a coastal development activity and impact tracking system (C-DAITS), a tool to assist in assessing and managing the cumulative impacts of development in the twenty coastal counties. C-DAITS intends to provide a new database of permitted activities that will help to support improvements to the permitting, enforcement and mitigation sections of DCM.

About regional cumulative impact assessments

DCM plans to develop cumulative and secondary impact analysis for small selected watersheds throughout the coastal area.The projects will identify the cumulative impacts to major coastal resources, and the thresholds or points at which significant effects on coastal ecosystems result from development activities.A regional assessment of cumulative coastal resource impacts will form a basis to develop better land use policies that result in more sustainable coastal communities.

 
 
 

 

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