The National Park Service has backed off its proposal to use dredged sand to fight erosion on North Carolina's Shackleford Banks — pleasing environmentalists, who want to maintain the barrier island's pristine condition, and local beach town officials, who want the sand for their shores.
"This is good news for environmentalists. This is good news for the shoreline. And this is good news for barrier islands," said Orrin Pilkey, environmentalist and geology professor emeritus at Duke University. "Thirty percent of the world's barrier islands are in the U.S., and we've got to preserve them."
It was also good news for towns like Atlantic Beach, which will not have to share with Shackleford the sand that they normally receive from Beaufort Inlet — which is dredged to keep Morehead City Harbor clear.
"We cried, we hugged, we jumped for joy," said Gregory Rudolph, shore protection manager for Carteret County, where Atlantic Beach is located. "It was a nice little victory. What was more refreshing was the process worked. We provided public comment and data, and the federal government, especially the Park Service, listened to us and reassessed."
In a letter earlier this month to the Army Corps of Engineers, the superintendent of the Cape Lookout National Seashore said he was withdrawing the proposal to put dredged sand on Shackleford Banks, the southernmost barrier island in the seashore. The Park Service manages Shackleford Banks, which is home to about 100 wild horses but no humans, as a wilderness area.
Seashore Superintendent Pat Kenney initially thought the extra sand would limit erosion on the western tip of Shackleford. He said he changed his mind after talking with coastal scientists, including Pilkey. The scientists contend that the small amount of sand that the Park Service would get wouldn't benefit areas where erosion is worst.
Beaufort Inlet contracts and expands naturally, and its current expansion is one cause of the erosion, meaning that there's no need for man to interfere, Pilkey said.
"It wasn't an easy decision, but I feel good about the decision that was made," Kenney said.
The proposal was made in early 2013 for the draft version of a Dredge Material Management Plan, which will determine the use of sand over the next 20 years once it's finalized. It's the result of legal agreement reached in 2008 between Carteret County and the Corps of Engineers to maintain the Morehead City Harbor.
The Park Service still supports having the Corps place sand offshore from the island in areas where the water is less than 25 feet deep in hopes that waves will move the sand toward shore. A similar plan, where the sand was placed in greater depths off Bogue Banks didn't work, officials from that area said.
Atlantic Beach Mayor Trace Cooper estimates the sand that the town has received previously protects about $2 billion in oceanfront investment from storms along with protecting Fort Macon State Park and providing wide beaches for visitors. Under an interim management plan, sand goes to the beach every three years and offshore in the other two years.
This year, about 1.1 million cubic yards went to Fort Macon and Atlantic Beach, which are along Bogue Banks, "and we like that," Rudolph said.
The Park Service proposal would have split the sand, with 57 percent to Bogue Banks and 43 percent to Shackleford. It also would have brought heavy equipment to Shackleford Banks, an area where the Park Service bans off-road vehicles and jet skis and where the last full-time residents left around the turn of the 20th century.
"There are so very, very few beaches left in the U.S. that are totally untouched," Pilkey said. "It would have been such a shame to have that island with bulldozers and pumps and pipes and all that stuff on it, and for naught. It was not going to solve their problem. And they don't really have a problem."
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