North Carolina Coastal Properties at Stake as Sandbag Deadline Nears

March 31, 2008

North Carolina regulators are preparing to enforce a May 1 deadline to clear the state’s beaches of sandbags that protect homes, hotels and roads.

The North Carolina Coastal Resources commission began a meeting in Kill Devil Hills on March 27, prepared to hear complaints about the looming deadline. Beachfront property owners and local officials have repeatedly said the sandbag rule will doom some oceanfront homes.

“I think it’s going to be very tough to pull out these sandbags knowing that after the first good high tide you’re going to have houses dropping in the ocean,” Debbie Smith, mayor of Ocean Isle Beach and chair of the N.C. Beach, Inlet and Waterway Association, told The Star-News of Wilmington.

Senate majority leader Marc Basnight, a Democrat from coastal Dare County, said he opposes a blanket order to pull out all sandbags. He told the Star-News that sandbags out of the surf zone that are protecting property should be allowed to stay.

“If it’s a case where they’re sitting in a beach area blocking someone from swimming or creating an obstacle course on the beach, then they should be removed,” Basnight said.

Several property owners have applied for extensions to keep the sandbags longer. Others have threatened legal action.

But state officials have also taken legal action to force the removal of sandbags. The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources filed a complaint last year in New Hanover County Superior Court trying to force a Kure Beach condominium complex to remove sandbags.

The state first allowed sandbags on beaches as temporary erosion controls, but officials say many have become permanent fixtures. Officials have repeatedly extended deadlines for the removal of sandbags, allowing communities to seek other ways to nourish the beaches.

Regulators estimate that sandbags from as many as 150 permits issued before 2006 remain exposed and need to be pulled. Bags covered by sand and stable vegetation may remain.

Jim Stephenson, coastal policy analyst with the North Carolina Coastal Federation, said fixing the state’s broken sandbag policy will require some difficult decisions.

“It’s never easy to convince people that it’s time for a white flag,” Stephenson said.

Information from: The Star-News,

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