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Putting More Beaches at Risk

Newly filed state legislation would expand the use of discredited beach-hardening structures called “terminal groins” and threaten more of our state’s natural beaches.

Matching state House and Senate bills would position North Carolina in support of controversial proposals to expand the jetty-like structure at Oregon Inlet and to build a new one at Topsail Beach. The Oregon Inlet structure is immediately adjacent to the Hatteras National Wildlife Refuge, and the proposed Topsail Island project would be the first on a barrier island which currently has no terminal groins. The legislation would help the two projects overcome resistance over environmental damage and high costs, by encouraging federal funding for the structures. It would undercut safeguards built into a 2015 law which authorized creating four such “pilot projects” on the state’s barrier islands but which also barred state funding for the projects.

Terminal groins are massive rock structures built from the sandy beach shoreline out through the surf zone into the ocean. They are intended to trap sand carried in the longshore ocean currents, in order either to keep it out of an inlet channel or build sand up in front of human structures built dangerously close to the beach. The structures can have the intended immediate effect, but in doing so are likely to starve other nearby areas of the sand which would naturally have been transported there. 

Coastal environment and wildlife advocates have long fiercely opposed such projects as major threats to North Carolina’s unique and highly sensitive barrier island shorelines. States which have relied on these and similar devices see a chain reaction in which increasing numbers of the structures are built along a previously natural shoreline. Opponents warn of severe damages to wildlife resources, sandy beaches, and the tourism-dependent economies of the impacted communities.

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