skip to main content | skip to footer
North Carolina Department of Environment Quality

NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Coastal Management - summer03

Coastal Management

CAMAgram - Summer 2003

CRC schedules hearings on updated erosion rates, setback factors

The Coastal Resources Commission will conduct hearings later this summer to receive public comments on a proposal to incorporate updated long-term average annual erosion rates into the state’s oceanfront development rules.

Erosion rate map for Ocean Isle Beach The new erosion rate maps will be more detailed than older versions. To see a larger version of this map, click on it.

A long-term average annual erosion rate is the average amount of erosion that occurs each year over a period of about 50 years. By measuring movement of the ocean shoreline over a long period of time, the Division of Coastal Management is able to get a more accurate representation of the net shoreline change, taking into account normal shoreline movement, beach nourishment and storms.

Coastal Management uses long-term average annual erosion rates in determining setback distances for oceanfront construction.

Setbacks are measured from the first line of stable, natural vegetation. For single-family residences and other small structures, the setback distance is determined by multiplying the average annual erosion rate by 30. For example, on a property where the erosion rate is 3 feet a year, the setback is a minimum of 90 feet from the vegetation line. In areas that are naturally gaining sand or have an erosion rate of 2 feet a year or less, the setback distance is a minimum of 60 feet.

For multi-family residences, such as condominiums, and commercial structures larger than 5,000 square feet, the setback distance is determined by multiplying the average annual erosion rate by 60. The minimum setback distance for these structures is 120 feet.

The rule language contains a grandfather clause for existing lots. If you own a lot platted by Oct. 23, 2003, and want to build on it after the new erosion rates take effect, you must meet a setback based on the new rates to the maximum extent feasible. If you cannot meet a setback based on the new erosion rates, the setback distance will be based on the erosion rate in effect at the time your lot was created.

If adopted by the CRC later this year, the updated erosion rates would take effect in 2004 after being approved by the state Rules Review Commission.

Hearings will take place in each of the eight coastal counties that contain ocean shoreline. In addition, written comments may be submitted by Sept. 30 to Charles Jones, Division of Coastal Management, 151-B Hwy. 24, Hestron Plaza II, Morehead City, NC 28557, or by e-mail

All hearings will begin at 7 p.m. The schedule is as follows:

  • Tuesday, Aug. 19 – Ocracoke School, State Road 1325, Ocracoke;
  • Wednesday, Aug. 20 – Duke University Marine Lab, 135 Duke Marine Lab Road, Beaufort;
  • Tuesday, Aug. 26 – Dare County Administrative Annex, 204 Ananias Dare St., Manteo;
  • Wednesday, Aug. 27 – Currituck County Satellite Office, 1123 Ocean Trail, Corolla;
  • Tuesday, Sept. 9 – Town Hall, 214 N. River Drive, Surf City;
  • Wednesday, Sept. 10 – Town Hall, 2008 Loggerhead Ct., North Topsail Beach;
  • Tuesday, Sept. 16 – Brunswick County Courthouse, 310 Government Center Drive, Bolivia;
  • Wednesday, Sept. 17 – Division of Coastal Management District Office, 127 Cardinal Drive Ext., Wilmington.

Policy Q&A: Updated erosion rates

The Coastal Resources Commission will conduct public hearings this summer on a proposal to incorporate updated long-term average annual erosion rates into its oceanfront development rules. The new rates are represented on maps prepared by the Division of Coastal Management.

What is a long-term average annual erosion rate?

A long-term average annual erosion rate is the average amount of erosion that occurs each year over a period of about 50 years. By measuring movement of the ocean shoreline over a long period of time, Coastal Management is able to get a more accurate representation of the net shoreline change, taking into account normal shoreline movement, beach nourishment and storms.

How was this rate measured?

The shoreline change was measured by comparing the shoreline in aerial photographs from 1998 with photographs, topographic surveys (T-sheets) and other shoreline data from the 1940s. The measurements were put through several computerized processes designed to reduce errors and increase accuracy. The result is the most accurate erosion rates the state has ever had.

How does the Division of Coastal Management use these erosion rates?

DCM uses long-term average annual erosion rates in determining setback distances for oceanfront construction. Setbacks are measured from the first line of stable, natural vegetation. For small structures and single-family residences of any size, the setback distance is determined by multiplying the average annual erosion rate by 30. For example, on a property where the erosion rate is 3 feet a year, the setback is a minimum of 90 feet from the vegetation line. In areas that are naturally gaining sand or have an erosion rate of 2 feet a year or less, the setback distance is a minimum of 60 feet.

For multi-family residences, such as condominiums, and commercial structures larger than 5,000 square feet, the setback distance is determined by multiplying the average annual erosion rate by 60. For example, on a property where the erosion rate is 3 feet a year, the setback is a minimum of 180 feet from the vegetation line. In areas where the erosion rate is greater than 3.5 feet a year, the setback for large structures is determined by multiplying the erosion rate by 30 and adding 105 feet. In areas that are naturally gaining sand or have an erosion rate of 2 feet a year or less, the setback distance is a minimum of 120 feet.

I own property on the oceanfront. How will the change in erosion rates affect my setback?

If you own a lot platted by Oct. 23, 2003, and obtain a CAMA permit to build on it after the new erosion rates take effect, you must meet a setback based on the new rates to the maximum extent feasible. If you cannot meet a setback based on the new erosion rates, the setback distance will be based on the erosion rate in effect at the time your lot was created.

On lots platted after Oct. 23, 2003, the distance of the construction setback will be based on the new erosion rates.

If the average annual erosion rate in front of my property has decreased, can I build closer to the ocean?

Not necessarily. Your setback distance will still be based on the erosion rate in effect at the time your lot was created. However, you can build closer to the ocean if the first line of stable natural vegetation on your lot has moved seaward. Remember, the setback is measured from this vegetation line.

When will the rule changes using the new rates take effect?

Upon adoption by the CRC this fall, the new rates will be incorporated into the state’s coastal development rules in 2004. The exact date will not be known until the state Rules Review Commission approves the rules.

When will the erosion rate maps be available?

The new maps are available online at now. Printed copies will be available in DCM offices later this summer.

The new maps show low erosion rates in front of some properties that clearly are threatened by erosion. Why?

The rates and maps were calculated using photographs taken in 1998. In communities such as North Topsail Beach and Emerald Isle, sudden shifts by inlets since 1998 have eroded the beach in front of some houses. DCM recognizes that dramatic changes in shoreline can occur – whether because of shifting inlets or major storms – in a short amount of time. The division’s staff is working on methods to reflect shoreline-change rates over a shorter period of time.

Why was there a lag between when the photos were taken in 1998 and the rate calculations?

The lag between when the 1998 photographs were taken and when the rates were calculated was the result of changing the method and technology used in updating the rates. Future updates should be accomplished more quickly.

What’s so special about the new erosion rate maps?

Because the new maps were created in a geographic information systems, or GIS, format, they are more accurate, more detailed and easier to use than previous erosion rate maps. In addition, DCM is developing an interactive online mapping tool that will allow visitors to the agency’s Web site to look at a variety of erosion information pertaining to oceanfront communities. This new feature will be available later this year.

How was the update done, and who funded it?

Coastal Management contracted with the state Department of Transportation to take the aerial photos in 1998. DCM then contracted with Surdex Corp. to digitize the photographs and conduct a process using global-positioning technology to correct for errors in scale. The rectified photos, known as ortho-photographs, then were sent to the Kenan Natural Hazards Mapping Program at N.C. State University, where the shoreline-change calculations were conducted. DCM used this data to produce the shoreline-change rate maps.

Funding for the project came from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the N.C. Division of Emergency Management and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Legislature considering seawall ban; other bills could affect coastal program

The General Assembly is considering an amendment to the Coastal Area Management Act that would ban seawalls along the oceanfront.

The Coastal Resources Commission, through its administrative rules, has largely prohibited seawalls, jetties, groins and other permanent erosion control structures along the oceanfront since 1985. The pending legislation would make the ban statutory law.

It also would prevent the CRC from issuing variances to allow seawalls on the oceanfront.

Senate leader Marc Basnight attached the ban to a bill that would authorize the CRC to adopt temporary and permanent rules to establish a general permit for the construction of riprap sills to enhance wetlands and protect shorelines along rivers and sounds. Currently, such projects require a CAMA major permit.

The “sill bill,” as it is known, was pending in the Senate at press time.

Several other pieces of legislation affecting the Coastal Management Program have been approved or are pending in the General Assembly.

  • The legislature amended the state’s Administrative Procedure Act to reduce the time needed for permanent rules to take effect. The measure also changed the procedure for adopting temporary rules and made them subject to review by the state Rules Review Commission.

The APA governs administrative rulemaking by agencies and commissions, including the CRC.

Under the APA changes enacted in June, permanent rules can go into effect on the first day of the month following their approval by the Rules Review Commission. If the RRC receives written objections to a rule from 10 people or more, its effective date is delayed and the legislature will have the opportunity to disapprove the rule.

Previously, any permanent rules could not take effect until the General Assembly had the first 30 working days of a legislative session to disapprove them. Typically, this meant that rules adopted by the CRC during one year could not take effect until the following year.

The changes to temporary rulemaking require the adopting agency or commission to collect written comments and hold at least one public hearing before adopting a temporary rule. Previously, public hearings were not required for temporary rules.

The changes also allow the RRC to review temporary rules before they can take effect.

  • The state budget contains $500,000 for a pilot program to provide express reviews of certain environmental permits and certifications. The program will make it possible for permit applicants to pay higher fees for a faster review of their applications.

The program would cover CAMA major permits, stormwater permits, and sedimentation and erosion control permits, as well as water-quality and stream-origination certifications. If a project required all of these permits and certifications, the fees could cost a total of $5,500. Normally, fees for CAMA major permits range from $250 to $400, and reviews take an average of 72 days.

The budget appropriation provides funding for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to create up to eight positions to work on the pilot program. Eventually, the program would be fee-supported.

  • A bill introduced in the state House would increase the cap on fines for violations of the Coastal Area Management Act. The bill would allow the Coastal Resources Commission to levy fines of up to $1,000 for minor violations and $25,000 for major violations. The current cap is $250 for minor violations and $2,500 for major infractions. The bill also would allow the Division of Coastal Management to recover the cost of investigating violations.

The bill passed the House in May and was pending in the Senate at press time.

  • Another House bill would raise the cap on CAMA permit fees. CAMA allows the CRC to set permit fees, but currently caps them at $400. The proposal would raise the cap to $1,000.

The bill was pending in the House at press time.

CRC will hear public comments on two rule changes at July meeting

The public will have the opportunity to comment on proposed changes to two Coastal Area Management Act rules in July.

The hearing is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Wednesday, July 23, during the Coastal Resources Commission’s meeting at the Archdale Building, 512, N. Salisbury St., in Raleigh.

The CRC will receive comments on a proposal to make riprap groins in estuarine and public trust waters eligible for a CAMA general permit. Such groins would qualify for the general permit as long as they would not extend farther than 25 feet into the water. The rule would replace a temporary rule the CRC adopted last year. Previously, wooden groins were allowed with a general permit, but riprap groins were not.

The CRC also will hear comments about a proposed amendment to the commission’s rules governing variance requests. The changes would clarify the factors the CRC uses in deciding variance requests. The proposed permanent rule would replace a temporary version the CRC adopted last year to conform with an amendment to the variance provisions in CAMA.

The public also may submit written comments about the rule proposals to Charles Jones, Division of Coastal Management, 151-B Hwy. 24, Hestron Plaza II, Morehead City, NC 28557, or by e-mail Deadline for written comments is July 31.

To see text of the rules, clickhere.

DCM awards more than $390,000 to local governments for land-use planning

The Division of Coastal Management has awarded $392,775 in grants to 22 local governments for land-use planning during fiscal year 2003-04.

The grants were awarded under the Local Planning and Management Grants Program. Projects that are eligible for funds include new or updated Coastal Area Management Act land-use plans.

The following local governments received grants to develop, update or complete land-use plans: Camden, Carteret, Currituck, Gates, Hertford, New Hanover, Pamlico, Pasquotank, Pender and Washington counties; and the towns of Beaufort, Cape Carteret, Carolina Beach, Duck, Emerald Isle, Kitty Hawk, Kure Beach, Morehead City, Newport, Surf City, Topsail Beach and Wrightsville Beach.

“Local land-use planning is becoming increasingly important in the coastal region, and we are very pleased that we can continue to support local governments in their planning efforts,” said Steve Underwood, Coastal Management’s assistant director for policy and planning.

Grants may cover up to 85 percent of a coastal county’s planning costs, depending on the type of plan and the county’s economic status. CAMA requires coastal counties to have land-use plans.

Because land-use planning is optional for coastal cities and towns, grants may cover up to 75 percent of their planning costs, depending on the type of plan the municipality chooses to develop.

Some smaller coastal communities may qualify for a simplified form of land-use plan known as a workbook plan. Coastal Management provides support to local governments that choose to do these plans. The town of Ahoskie is scheduled to develop a workbook plan this fiscal year.

DENR schedules meetings on Coastal Habitat Protection Plan

The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources has scheduled a series of meetings around the state to gather public input on the plan the department is devising to protect critical marine habitats.

“North Carolina’s coastal waters are a natural treasure, and we need to protect this valuable resource for our children and future generations to come.”
- Gov. Mike Easley

The first meeting on the Coastal Habitat Protection Plan, or CHPP, is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Wednesday, July 23, at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh.

Other meetings will be on Thursday, July 24, at the Mooresville Citizens Center in Mooresville; Tuesday, July 29, at the Brunswick Electric Membership Corp. in Supply; Wednesday, July 30, at the New Hanover County’s Northeast branch library in Wilmington; Tuesday, Aug. 12, at Dixon High School in Holly Ridge; Wednesday, Aug. 13, at East Carteret High School near Beaufort; Tuesday, Aug. 19, at the N.C. Aquarium on Roanoke Island in Manteo; Wednesday, Aug. 20, at the Town Council Chambers in Edenton; Tuesday, Sept. 9, at the N.C. Estuarium in Washington; and Wednesday, Sept. 10, at Pamlico County High School in Bayboro. All meetings start at 7 p.m.

People who attend the meetings can help shape the plan and the future of the state’s fisheries by offering their suggestions and opinions.

“North Carolina’s coastal waters are a natural treasure, and we need to protect this valuable resource for our children and future generations to come,” Gov. Mike Easley said. “An important step in this ongoing process is the development and implementation of a Coastal Habitat Protection Plan. I encourage North Carolinians to participate and support this key environmental initiative to help protect and enhance our costal resources.”

State legislators, recognizing the need to protect critical marine habitats, passed the Fisheries Reform Act in 1997. The law contains the directive to protect and enhance coastal habitats that are critical to fish and shellfish. To achieve that goal, the law requires the cooperation of the state’s three main regulatory commissions. The Environmental Management, the Coastal Resources and the Marine Fisheries commissions must work together to prepare and adopt plans that protect and restore these critical habitats and to enact rules to implement the plans. The commissions also must ensure to the maximum extent practicable that they act in a manner consistent with the adopted plans.

The CHPP marks a historic turning point, said Bill Ross, secretary of DENR. It will require that the state’s environmental commissions act in harmony to preserve and enhance valuable aquatic habitats, he said.

“We all have a stake in the future of the state’s fisheries,” Ross said. “What we do on the land determines what happens in the water. What happens to these habitats affects what happens to the fisheries. Ultimately, environmental programs such as CHPP are related to both our survival and our ability to have economic growth in sustainable ways. I encourage everyone to attend these meetings and give us your suggestions. We’ll put them to work.”

The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries has been assigned the lead task of formulating the CHPP. The agency has been working since 1999 with the Division of Coastal Management and several other state and federal agencies on the framework of the first plan, a sort of broad-brush examination of the six critical marine habitats coast-wide. Later plans will be more specific, examining those habitats in 11 geographic regions that closely follow coastal watershed boundaries.

The CHPP will be a detailed document that describes the habitats and includes scientific information on their ecological function and importance to marine species. It will also identify the threats to each habitat and recommend needed research as well as regulatory and non-regulatory steps that should be taken to protect and enhance each habitat.

Drafting of the first coast-wide CHPP is under way. Two representatives of each of the three regulatory commissions sit on an oversight board called the Intercommission Review Committee that will review and modify the draft plan.

In addition to the meetings this summer, the public will have another opportunity to review and comment on the plan at meetings next year. The schedule calls for the commissions to adopt the final plan at the end of 2004. All components of the CHPP are supposed to be updated every five years.

DENR has prepared a video about the CHPP for viewing at the meetings. A tabloid explaining the plan and why it is needed is being distributed in newspapers throughout the coastal region. Members of civic groups may be able to get a copy of the video to show other members. Call the Division of Marine Fisheries at 1-800-682-2632 for information.

People can also visit the division’s Web site to be put on the CHPP mailing list.

Federal thumbs-up means more money for state program fighting runoff pollution

North Carolina is getting more federal dollars to help it fight runoff pollution along the coast.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently approved the N.C. Coastal Nonpoint Source Program, a cooperative effort of the divisions of Coastal Management and Water Quality.

Because North Carolina has an approved coastal nonpoint source program, NOAA recently awarded the state a $200,000 bonus. The state is passing that money along to local governments to implement projects aimed at cleaning up coastal waters, said Gloria Putnam, the program’s coordinator.

NOAA has provided the state with steady funding to support the coastal nonpoint source program since 1998. In 2003-04, the state is slated to get $240,000 in base funding, plus an additional $275,000 for having an approved program, Putnam said. The extra money will help state agencies, local governments and nonprofit groups fight the water pollution caused when rainwater, snowmelt or irrigation water runs off the land or developed surfaces and carries pollutants into creeks, streams, rivers and sounds.

When the federal Coastal Zone Management Act was reauthorized in 1990, it began requiring every state participating in the federal coastal management program to develop a plan for addressing nonpoint source pollution. According to NOAA’s program description, the purpose of the requirement is to strengthen the links between federal and state coastal management and water quality programs. The requirement is also designed to enhance state and local efforts to manage land-use activities that harm coastal waters and habitats.

To receive program approval, the state had to identify its enforceable policies and mechanisms to address more than 50 federal management measures, and designate areas of the state that the program would cover. Having received a thumbs-up from the federal agencies, the state will work to implement all applicable measures to protect and restore water quality within 15 years.

To date, Putnam has worked to establish partnerships with other state agencies, local governments and nonprofit groups. She has focused mainly on education, outreach and other non-regulatory approaches to solving the problem.

Runoff pollution is one of the biggest threats to water quality along the coast, said Guy Stefanski, strategic planning manager for Coastal Management. Pollutants have found their way into coastal waters, causing algae blooms, fish kills, sediment plumes and the closure of shellfish waters.

Of particular concern is the increased number of closed shellfish waters that are affected by local sources of microbial pollution, Stefanski said. Many of the nonpoint source program’s efforts will aim to protect or improve those waters. “If we can improve coastal water quality overall, we can improve shellfish waters,” he said.

NOAA seeking comments on proposed changes to federal consistency regulations

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is proposing changes to its rules that allow states to review federally sponsored or licensed projects for consistency with state coastal management policies.

Projects undertaken by individuals, companies, local governments or state agencies do not require a Coastal Area Management Act permit if they occur outside North Carolina’s designated areas of environmental concern within the 20 coastal counties or more than three miles offshore. But if those projects require a federal license or receive federal funding, they need a certification that they are consistent with the N.C. Coastal Management Program. For example, any offshore exploration for oil or natural gas would require a state consistency review because the U.S. Minerals Management Service controls the leasing of sites in federal waters.

Under the federal Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA), NOAA has regulations for states and applicants to follow in the consistency review process. Now, NOAA is proposing changes it says will improve the federal consistency regulations by tightening up the language in some sections and giving applicants clearer instructions about the information they must provide to states. The revised language also would give applicants a better idea of when the review process starts and how long it takes.

The changes are intended to address concerns raised by applicants, particularly oil and gas companies, about the review process, said Molly Holt, a staff attorney at NOAA.

Is the process broken?

Tony MacDonald, executive director of the Coastal States Organization in Washington, D.C., said he is fully supportive of an efficient and effective review process, but he doesn’t think the current system needs fixing. Most projects that are subject to consistency reviews get approved without issue, he said, and few appeals are filed when projects are turned down.

“It’s unclear to us why these (changes) are necessary,” said MacDonald, whose organization is an advocate for improved coastal management. “The process generally works quite well.”

The CSO staff is still reviewing the proposal, MacDonald said, but he is concerned that the changes may turn the process into “a cookie-cutter approach to reviewing complex projects.”

The changes will not limit states’ ability to get the information they need to review projects such as oil and gas exploration in federal waters, Holt said. But states might need to make changes in their coastal management program to specify what information they would require over and above what satisfies NOAA. “They’re going to have to get more organized about (the process),” Holt said. “And some states are further ahead than others in this area.”

The N.C. Coastal Resources Commission revised its coastal energy policies in 2000 to clarify the information needed for reviewing proposed energy facilities or exploration within the state and in offshore waters.

MacDonald is skeptical about the effects NOAA’s proposed changes could have on states. “We certainly want to be sure they’re not putting additional burden on the states to specify information required, or removing the responsibility of the permit applicants to fully consider the applicable state regulations and ensure that the state has the right to review the activities that may affect their coastal resources,” he said. “We just don’t want to undercut state rights.”

Holt said NOAA has received few comments about the proposal so far. The agency has extended the deadline for comments to Aug. 25.

Consistency debate tied to CZMA reauthorization

The debate over consistency reviews goes back several years. In 2001, the National Ocean Industries Association and the American Petroleum Institute, groups that represent oil and gas interests, tried to address the issue of consistency reviews by proposing several changes to the CZMA when the law came up for reauthorization in Congress.

The changes would have allowed the U.S. Interior secretary to determine the information states needed to make decisions about their coastal resources. That would have limited the amount and type of information states could collect as part of their review of federally sponsored or licensed activities affecting their coasts. In addition, projects located outside of a state’s boundaries that could have effects on its coastal resources would no longer have been subject to federal consistency review.

That proposal never gained enough support from lawmakers, but the issue is one of several that have bogged down the CZMA reauthorization bill in Congress the past few years.

Administrators at NOAA and its parent agency, the U.S. Department of Commerce, hope the proposed changes to consistency rules will give the bill a boost. “We’ve certainly tried to address some of the concerns from the energy industry that are holding up CZMA reauthorization,” Holt said.

To download a copy of the NOAA proposal, go to For more information, contact David Kaiser, NOAA federal consistency coordinator, at 301-713-3155, ext. 144,

Pew Commission urges comprehensive reform of U.S. ocean policy

Immediate reform of U.S. ocean laws and policies is needed to restore ocean wildlife, protect ocean ecosystems and preserve the ecological, economic and social benefits the oceans provide, an independent commission has concluded.

The Pew Oceans Commission cited the continuing decline in the abundance of ocean wildlife, the loss of coastal and estuarine habitat and the potential collapse of marine systems as reasons for reform.

Photo of Leon Panetta
Leon Panetta

The collection of scientists, fishermen, conservationists, business leaders and elected officials completed the first review of U.S. ocean policy since the Stratton Commission in 1969. The commission’s report, “America’s Living Oceans: Charting a Course for Sea Change,” presents solutions for restoring ocean wildlife, preserving coastal habitat, cleaning coastal waters and reforming ocean governance.

“For centuries we have viewed the oceans as beyond our ability to harm and their bounty beyond our ability to deplete. We now know that this is not true,” commission chairman Leon Panetta said in announcing the findings. “This report allows us to step up to our shared responsibility to manage the oceans responsibly and ensure that future generations may enjoy clean beaches, abundant wildlife, healthful seafood and the natural beauty of the seas.”

The report included the following recommendations:

  • Establishing regional ocean ecosystem councils, an independent Ocean Agency and a national system of fully protected marine reserves.
  • Restoring America’s fisheries by protecting marine ecosystems, employing fishing and bycatch restrictions, and establishing a fisheries conservation and management trust fund.
  • Preserving our coasts by developing action plans to address nonpoint pollution on a watershed basis, funding the protection of critical habitats, instituting effective mechanisms at all levels of government to manage coastal development, and redirecting government programs and subsidies away from harmful development.
  • Cleaning coastal waters by expanding pollution laws to focus on nonpoint pollution, enacting stronger controls for point sources such as vessels, confining animal feeding operations, and developing new measures to manage emerging issues such as invasive species and noise.
  • Implementing a national policy for sustainable marine aquaculture.
  • Promoting science and education by creating a comprehensive research and monitoring strategy, doubling funding for basic ocean science, and improving links between independent science review and oversight of ocean and coastal management.

The report is being distributed to governors and citizens in all 50 states. To download the report, go online

The commission was funded by a grant from the Pew Charitable Trust, which supports nonprofit activities in the areas of culture, education, the environment, health and human services, public policy and religion.

Federal government jettisons Oregon Inlet jetties

The 30-year saga of the proposal to build jetties in Oregon Inlet apparently ended in May when federal agencies announced they had agreed not to proceed with the controversial navigation project.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Interior and Commerce departments reached a mutual agreement to move forward with alternatives to building the jetties. The agreement resolved a 30-year process seeking to reconcile complex economic and engineering issues with the goal of improving navigation safety and protecting the fishery, the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.

“We looked closely at the economic and environmental data and jointly determined that the uncertainties in projecting both the estimated economic and environmental effects, and the risk to important resources, weigh against proceeding with the project.”
- James Connaughton

Instead of building jetties, the corps will improve the current 14-foot navigation channel while working with the Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to enhance boating safety by providing the public with more precise navigational data on changing sand conditions in the channel.

The decision to cease work on the Oregon Inlet jetty project included extensive inter-agency coordination and communications, including a public hearing in Manteo at which local citizens expressed earnest and differing views on the project.

“This decision resolves a long-standing debate among federal agencies with different congressional mandates,” said CEQ Chairman James L. Connaughton. “Working with the corps and the other agencies, we looked closely at the economic and environmental data and jointly determined that the uncertainties in projecting both the estimated economic and environmental effects, and the risk to important resources, weigh against proceeding with the project.”

Two Republican members of North Carolina’s congressional delegation expressed concerns about the federal government’s decision. Rep. Walter Jones and Sen. Elizabeth Dole issued a statement calling for the White House to support funding for maintaining the inlet at its authorized depth at all times and to support other measures to ensure boater safety.

Jones said he was disappointed, but not surprised, by the government’s decision. “This just reinforces the sad truth that there are many people here in Washington who simply don’t understand the needs of Eastern North Carolina,” he said.

A 30-year saga

In 1970, Congress authorized the project, in which the Corps of Engineers was to dredge a 20-foot by 400-foot navigation channel to accommodate deep-draft fishing vessels and construct two large jetties designed to divert sands from the channel.

Oregon Inlet is the only barrier-island break in the northern part of the Outer Banks, providing access for boats between the Atlantic Ocean and the Albemarle and Pamlico sounds. The project was designed to ensure navigation for deep-draft fishing vessels as well as recreational boats. It would have had an initial cost of $108 million and annual dredging costs of $6.1 million.

Over the next three decades, the Corps of Engineers conducted numerous economic studies and substantial environmental analyses under the National Environmental Policy Act. A final decision was delayed repeatedly because of concerns expressed by other federal agencies. NOAA opposed the project during formal consultations with the corps because of a potentially significant impact on the area’s already diminished fisheries. Species that depend on the inlet for habitat include flounder, blue crab, white shrimp, bluefish, various sharks and at least 70 other species of fish and shellfish.

In addition, two Interior agencies – the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – expressed concern over potential erosion of national park and national wildlife refuge lands. The Park Service manages Cape Hatteras National Seashore on the north side of the inlet while Fish and Wildlife manages Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge on the south side.

In reaching the consensus agreement not to proceed with the project, the agencies found that the available economic data contained uncertainties that raised questions as to whether the project would generate even modest net benefits to the local economy. With local fish stocks in decline, NOAA and the corps concluded that the project probably would not lead to additional fish landings. At the same time, tourism has become a mainstay of the local economy.

While use of the inlet by commercial fishing has declined, the number of recreational boaters has climbed along with visitation to both the national seashore and the national wildlife refuge.

Fewer positions in DCM Raleigh office

By this time next year, there will be fewer people in the Division of Coastal Management’s Raleigh office.

A plan implemented by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources this spring calls for seven positions from the Raleigh office to move to coastal counties.

Coastal Management Director Donna Moffitt already is there. She began working out of the division’s Wilmington office in May. She can be reached at 910-395-3900. However, variance petitions, appeals and other legal correspondence with the division should still be sent to the Raleigh office: 1638 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1638.

Five positions in the division’s permits and consistency section, which coordinates multi-agency reviews of applications for Coastal Area Management Act major permits and reviews federal projects for consistency with coastal policies, is slated to move to Morehead City by next June. An administrative position also is slated for relocation to the coast later this year.

Research could help towns assess longevity of nourishment projects

Research being done along Bogue Banks may help beach towns better plan nourishment projects in the future.

Photo of Chris Freeman and David Bernstein
Chris Freeman, left, and David Bernstein sit on the all-terrain vehicles they used to conduct surveys of Bogue Banks. / Photo courtesy of UNC Institute of Marine Sciences

Coastal geologists with the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences in Morehead City have spent the past year studying how sand moves along the barrier island that comprises Atlantic Beach, Pine Knoll Shores, Indian Beach and Emerald Isle. They want to quantify how much sand moves both along the shore and between onshore and offshore zones.

A lot of studies have looked at sand movement on beaches that face east, but little research exists about south-facing beaches such as Bogue Banks, said Chris Freeman, who is doing the study with fellow geologists John Wells and David Bernstein.

Using global positioning equipment mounted on two all-terrain vehicles and a rigid-hull inflatable boat outfitted with motion-compensated shallow water sonar, the researchers have collected high-density data about sand movement from the beach, surf zone and offshore to a depth of 30 feet.

Sophisticated geographic information systems computer software enabled the geologists to look at the data in three dimensions instead of the traditional two. The research method produced a high-density data set yielding better information about the amount of sand present and changes in the volume of sand, Freeman said.

The researchers surveyed all of Bogue Banks twice during the past year. They conducted two additional surveys on those portions of the island that were nourished in 2002, providing a total of four datasets. This will enable them to track the movement of nourishment sand in both the along-shore and cross-shore directions over time.

“When you add a bunch of sand to the beach, things start to behave a little differently,” Freeman said. “We’re trying to see how the nourishment project is coming into equilibrium.”

So far the researchers have discovered that, over the course of this year-one study a large quantity of sand moved westward from the nourished area of the island. They also found that when storms eroded dunes along Emerald Isle, the sand fed the offshore area, so the overall contour of the shoreline did not change much. Longer studies are needed to definitively tell how much sand is moving around Bogue Banks and where it’s going, Freeman said.

Beach communities throughout the coast could use the research team’s methods to assess the longevity of beach nourishment projects and to quantify “hotspots,” areas that either are eroding or accreting (gaining sand). The methods could help beach towns quantify the amount of sand moving around on the beach and offshore.

In the future, data from studies such as the one on Bogue Banks could prove useful in helping engineers design nourishment projects to place more sand on the portions of beach needing it most. “(This research) is a potentially powerful management tool that could help towns tailor their nourishment efforts and use their nourishment dollars more effectively in the future,” Freeman said.

The research methods also could be used immediately after storms to give towns an accurate count of how much sand the beaches have lost. That could help towns when they seek federal disaster relief, Freeman said.

Carteret County sponsored the initial $70,000 project, and the Division of Coastal Management contributed $10,000 from a federal grant.

Coastal Reserve mounting fight against invasive plants

If Arnold Schwarzenegger wanted to make a movie about the nasty plants growing in a marshy area of Kitty Hawk Woods Coastal Reserve, he could call it “Terminator 4: Rise of the Reeds.”

Photo of phragmites
Phragmites, an invasive reed, is difficult to kill. / NOAA file photo

The reed, known as phragmites, invades wetlands wherever it gets the opportunity, typically in areas where the natural ecosystem has been disturbed. It has been found in ditches, areas covered in fill material and along marshes. Once it takes root, it can overtake native plants, and it’s almost impossible to kill, evoking comparisons to the movie character popularized by Scwarzenegger.

Phragmites is present in marsh along Kitty Hawk Bay in an area that is part of the coastal reserve. Unlike the Terminator, the reed didn’t come from the future. It likely came from Europe, though how it got to the Outer Banks remains a mystery, said Michele Droszcz, northern sites manager for the N.C. Coastal Reserve Program.

Droszcz isn’t as concerned about the reed’s origins as she is with finding the best way to kill it. She has received a $15,000 grant from the Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Program to help start her fight against the wetland invader. More money will be needed to finish it, she said.

Saltwater appears to be phragmites’ arch nemesis. Chopping the reed and stomping it into salty water can kill it, Droszcz said. “But here in the Albemarle Sound we don’t have that option because it’s almost freshwater,” she said.

Land managers such as Droszcz have tried a variety of ways to kill phragmites in the Albemarle region. But they never evaluated the success of their methods. That prompted Droszcz to develop the research project.

To find out how best to control the reed, Droszcz and other researchers will divide the marsh area into six sections and try a different method in each. She will burn the reed, cut it periodically during the year, hack it once, cut and smash it into the ground, cut and spray it with herbicides, and cut and cover the plant with sheets of plastic. The work will begin in November, when the reed enters its dormant season.

“We’re going to try different methods and document the success or failure, so the land managers can see what’s working and not working,” Droszcz said. Testing the methods and monitoring the results should take about two years, and Droszcz will seek additional funding for the project.

After researchers test the various methods, they will work with the Dare County Cooperative Extension Service to offer workshops for land managers and others faced with controlling phragmites.

Droszcz is getting additional help in her phragmite fight. Elizabeth City State University has mapped the areas where the reed is present, and students from the school will help test methods for controlling it. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service will provide equipment for the project. The Nature Conservancy and Dr. Carolyn Currin with the NOAA Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research in Beaufort will share previous research on phragmites and assist with outreach efforts.

DCM receives funding from federal agency for pumpout program

The Division of Coastal Management has received $51,000 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to continue a program that helps marinas and docks provide sewage pumpout stations for boaters.

Pumpout sign
Signs mark the location of pumpout stations along the coast.

The program awards grants to public and commercial marinas to cover up to 75 percent of the cost of buying and installing pumpout stations. Marinas are required to contribute 25 percent of the cost. The Fish and Wildlife Service provides the funding to Coastal Management through the Clean Vessel Act.

Coastal Management currently is accepting applications for pumpout grants. To find out more, contact Mike Lopazanski at 919-733-2293, ext. 239 Applications are available online

The division receives five or six grant applications a year, and the average cost of pumpout stations is $5,000 to $6,000, said Lopazanski, the program’s coordinator.

Since the grants program began in 1995, Coastal Management has awarded 53 grants totaling $220,000 for the installation of 48 pumpout facilities coastwide. The program has helped bring the total number of pumpout stations available in the coastal area to 74, Lopazanski said.

Universities, government agencies team up to study N.C. coast

Universities and government agencies are collaborating on a project to gain a better understanding of the complexities of North Carolina’s coast.

The goal is to build a sound scientific basis for future policy and regulatory decisions by federal and state agencies and local governments.

East Carolina University, the U.S. Geological Survey at Woods Hole, Mass., and the N.C. Geological Survey are the primary members of the N.C. Coastal Geology Cooperative.

The group, which is entering the fourth year of its five-year research project, needs about $1.8 million a year in federal money to adequately complete the work, cooperative members say.

The cooperative’s principal researchers – Rob Thieler of the USGS, Stan Riggs of ECU and Bill Hoffman of NCGS – presented an update on their work to the Coastal Resources Commission at its April meeting. CRC Chairman Gene Tomlinson in May sent a letter to U.S. Sen. John Edwards seeking additional federal funding for the project. Edwards has been a supporter of the cooperative.

The researchers say more information about the state’s coastal geology is needed because of compelling evidence about sea-level rise and the likelihood that a period of high hurricane risk is coming.

“Past damages (from storms) emphatically underscore the need for a better understanding of the geology of our coast,” the researchers say in a fact sheet about the cooperative.

North Carolina’s coastal system consists of an immense and complex series of ecosystems – such as barrier islands, mainland areas, and estuarine and riverine areas – that are influenced by an extreme variety of environmental processes and dynamics. Each ecosystem is a product of the intimate interaction between coastal processes – including sea-level change, sediment transport and storm impacts – changing climatic patterns and the underlying geologic framework.

Understanding these interactions will allow researchers to address several key issues: erosion along the oceanfront and sounds; the location, quality and quantity of offshore and onshore sand resources for beach nourishment; storm impacts on barrier islands; the history and potential impacts of sea-level change; the abundance and quality of water resources; and habitat disturbance and loss.

ASBPA issues call for papers

The American Shore & Beach Preservation Association (ASBPA) has announced a call for papers for its 2003 annual conference, which is scheduled for Sept. 21-24 at the Hilton Wilmington Riverside Hotel.

Papers are welcome on all subjects related to coastal management, as well as subjects pertaining to the technical, sociological, political and economic aspects of the coastal experience.

Abstracts should be e-mailed to ASBPA President Gregory Woodell by June 30. People with questions can call Woodell at 310-305-9537.

Science Panel on Coastal Hazards adds two members

A coastal geologist and an engineer have joined the panel that provides scientific advice to the Coastal Resources Commission.

Photo of Greg Williams
Greg Williams

The CRC recently invited Walter Barnhardt, an assistant professor of geology at UNC-Chapel Hill, and Gregory Williams, chief of the coastal, hydrology and hydraulics section of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Wilmington, to join the state Science Panel on Coastal Hazards.

The new members were added to maintain a balance among the various areas of expertise represented on the panel, said Guy Stefanski, strategic planning manager with the Division of Coastal Management.

The 11-member panel is composed of coastal geologists, engineers and biologists representing all of the major North Carolina universities that have research programs in the coastal area, as well as the Corps of Engineers. The corps had been without a representative on the panel since the retirement of engineer Tom Jarrett a couple of years ago.

Barnhardt joined the UNC-CH faculty in 2002 after working with the U.S. Geological Survey in California. He holds a bachelor’s degree in geology from the College of William and Mary, and master’s and doctoral degrees in geological sciences from the University of Maine.

Williams rejoined the Corps of Engineers this year after working for coastal engineering firms in Virginia and Maryland. He earlier worked for the corps from 1990-99. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from N.C. State University and Old Dominion University, respectively, and a doctorate in ocean engineering from Texas A&M University.

The Science Panel on Coastal Hazards was formed in 1997 to provide the CRC with advice and technical recommendations for managing coastal hazards.

Gray revises hurricane forecast

Picture of William Gray
William Gray

Hurricane forecaster William Gray now says the Atlantic storm season will be slightly worse than he previously predicted.

In a forecast released just before the official start of hurricane season on June 1, the Colorado State University professor predicted 14 named storms, two more than he had predicted in December and April. The forecast for eight hurricanes did not change. Gray also maintained his prediction that three storms would become intense hurricanes with winds of at least 111 mph.

The average is 10 named storms, six hurricanes. The Atlantic hurricane season continues through Nov. 30.

Gray attributes the higher prediction to the weakening of El Nino and the likely coming of La Nina.

As of press time, the season had produced three named tropical storms: Ana, the first named storm ever to occur in April; Bill, which came ashore in Louisiana June 30; and Claudette, the season’s first hurricane, which made landfall on the Texas coast July 15.

Staff news

Sheila Green, permits and consistency clerk in the Raleigh office, has been named rulemaking coordinator.

Kelly Spivey has joined the Washington office as a field representative. He previously worked for the Division of Land Resources.

Congratulations toShery Keel, receptionist in the Morehead City office, and her husband,Chris, on the birth of their daughter,Jaedyn, in April.


Two North Carolina beaches are among the nation’s best. Ocracoke Island ranked third and Cape Hatteras National Seashore 10th on the annual list of “America’s Best Beaches.” The annual list is compiled by coastal researcherDr. Stephen Leatherman, a.k.a.“Dr. Beach.” Leatherman, a professor at Florida International University, ranks the nation’s 650 beaches using 50 criteria. Kaanapali Beach in Hawaii took top honors this year. To see the full list, go …

The nonprofit Surfrider Foundation has given high marks to Coastal Management’s Web-based guide to public beach and waterfront access areas. The online guide allows users to find public access sites for beaches and waterways by clicking on a map of the area they are interested in visiting. Access areas may include pedestrian walkways, parking spaces, restrooms and other facilities. The locator map is available This is the fourth consecutive year Surfrider has recognized the site. To see Surfrider’s “State of the Beach” report, go


Your input is valuable to us. Please send us your feedback.

What type of feedback would you like to send?*

Ask a Question Report a Problem Have a Concern Make a Comment

(If you would like us to respond please include your phone or e-mail.)

Your Question has been sent. Thank you!

An internal server error prevented Your Question from being sent.
Please try again later, or call Toll-Free (877) 623-6748 for immediate assistance.

Please complete all highlighted items

Your Problem has been sent. Thank you!

An internal server error prevented Your Question from being sent.
Please try again later, or call Toll-Free (877) 623-6748 for immediate assistance.

Please complete all highlighted items

Your Concern has been sent. Thank you!

An internal server error prevented Your Question from being sent.
Please try again later, or call Toll-Free (877) 623-6748 for immediate assistance.

Please complete all highlighted items

Your Comment has been sent. Thank you!

An internal server error prevented Your Question from being sent.
Please try again later, or call Toll-Free (877) 623-6748 for immediate assistance.

Please complete all highlighted items

*If you are a DENR employee with an I.T. issue, please submit a DOTS ticket.