The Coastal Area Management Act: A bold step
that continues to reap benefits
In 1974, the N.C. General Assembly took a bold and important step toward protecting the state's coast by passing the Coastal Area Management Act, known as CAMA. In the years since its passage, CAMA has enabled North Carolina to make important steps toward protecting coastal resources. Through the Coastal Resources Commission and the Division of Coastal Management, the work continues.
In 1993-94, the Coastal Futures Committee, a citizen group appointed by Gov. Jim Hunt, evaluated the state's coastal management program and made recommendations for improvement in a report titled "Charting a Course for Our Coast." In 1999, during the 25th anniversary of CAMA, the Division of Coastal Management published a report on the state's progress in meeting those recommendations.
Listed below are just a few of CAMA's many accomplishments since 1974.
Protecting coastal water quality
The CRC increased citizen involvement in coastal water quality protection through a stakeholder group. This group met throughout the spring and summer of 1999 to develop recommendations for improving water quality along the coast. These recommendations were submitted to the CRC, and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources now is following up on them.
In August 2000, Coastal Management began offering a new general permit for property owners to use riprap to protect wetlands in estuarine and public trust waters. Because a general permit can be issued quickly in most cases, the new rule could encourage applicants to use this shoreline stabilization method instead of bulkheads, which are not as environmentally friendly.
Responding to hurricanes
Coastal Management has worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, state and local emergency management officials, local governments and property owners to assess damages and expedite permits for rebuilding following six hurricanes that have affected the North Carolina coast since the summer of 1996.
Coastal Management worked with the N.C. Division of Emergency Management, the N.C. Department of Transportation and N.C. State University on an effort to measure historical shoreline change more accurately in both current and future erosion rate updates. The division, with assistance from DEM, DOT and NCSU, developed a set of digital aerial orthophotography and created a geographically based set of data for the state's ocean shoreline. Identification of areas vulnerable to erosion and storm damage, and areas suitable for beach nourishment, should improve state and local management of development in ocean hazard areas.
Protecting life and property
The CRC's ban on seawalls and other hard structures has ensured that North Carolina has wide sandy beaches and dunes, which absorb wave energy, keeping the ocean away from homes. The N.C. Court of Appeals upheld the ban in a 1999 case brought against the CRC by the Shell Island Homeowners Association.
Strengthening coastal land-use planning
In fall 2001, the CRC completed a three-year effort to improve coastal land-use planning. CAMA requires each of the 20 coastal counties to have land-use plans. The CRC adopted revisions to the planning guidelines that are less complicated, better tailored to local governments' needs and more in line with the goals of CAMA. The new guidelines took effect Aug. 1, 2002.
In addition, the secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources approved revised guidelines for the program that provides funding to coastal local governments for land-use planning. The revisions will give local governments more planning flexibility, improve the implementation of local plans and encourage more public participation in the planning process. The revisions took effect Aug. 1, 2002.
Preserving coastal treasures
With the addition of Bird Island in May 2002, the state's Coastal Reserve Program now has 10 sites encompassing more than 40,000 acres. The Coastal Reserve Program preserves undeveloped natural areas for research, education and public use.
Schoolchildren and teachers learn about estuaries every year through various workshops and the acclaimed Web-based reserve tour, Estuary Live. In September 2001, more than 20,000 people in 31 states and four foreign countries logged on for a special Estuary Live broadcast that featured estuaries across the country. The broadcast originated from the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve in Beaufort. This program was repeated in October 2002.
Since 1978, about 42,000 CAMA permits have been issued in the 20 coastal counties for development, including piers, houses and even large subdivisions. Balancing economic development and environmental protection is at the heart of CAMA.
Coastal Management has awarded more than $10 million to local governments to establish more than 280 public access sites along the coast since the General Assembly created the access program in 1981. Some of those grants have been used to enhance urban areas, such as the Wilmington Riverwalk project.
Grants to local governments have helped coastal communities prepare for growth. All 20 counties and more than 70 cities and towns have developed land use plans, and communities have used Coastal Management grants to develop tools for managing growth, such as stormwater ordinances, zoning and subdivision ordinances and urban waterfront revitalization plans.
Coastal Management has the most complete and sophisticated mapping and analysis methodologies for wetlands of any state agency. The division is developing a comprehensive Wetlands Conservation Plan to improve the protection of freshwater wetlands in the state's 20 coastal counties. The plan consists of five key elements: mapping and inventory of wetlands; a functional assessment to rank wetlands according to important functions; policies to protect the most ecologically significant wetlands; and a procedure to identify and rank potential wetland restoration sites. The wetlands maps and data, much of which are currently available to local governments for land-use planning, will be used to monitor changes in wetland habitat and function and to help steer development toward appropriate, or less ecologically sensitive, areas.