Coastal issues floated in conference

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By Cole Dittmer, Emmy Errante and Miriah Hamrick

Staff Writers

The North Carolina Beach, Inlet and Waterway Association’s annual conference at the Blockade Runner Beach Resort covered topics from coastal species of concern to dredge projects, alternative energy and possible new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency policies.

The unknowns surrounding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed amendment to the Clean Water Act were the highlight of a presentation led by Raleigh attorney Matt Hanchey, environmental inspector Jim Spangler and Business Alliance for a Sound Economy governmental affairs director Tyler Newman.

Held during the second session of the NCBIWA conference, the presentation attempted to outline the questions many have with the EPA’s proposed change, which will aim to clarify the Clean Water Act as applied to smaller bodies of water, like streams and ditches that flow to already-pro tected larger bodies of water.

For those in development, Spangler said the lack of clarity in defining what would classify as a protected Water of the United States has raised concerns.

“There is no right answer here and that is scary to those of us who are dealing with this issue out in the field,” Spangler said. “We need to have the ability to know what to expect and if we don’t know what to expect and it is all a matter of opinion … that doesn’t allow economic developers, municipalities or taxpayers to plan for the future with any certainty.”

If there are a large number of new areas that fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government, Spangler said there would be a bottleneck in project permits that could last up to one year.

“If we have this large expansion of areas that fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government for regulatory purposes, what we are not seeing at the same time is a similar expansion of the permit process that allows projects to move forward,” he said.

Newman said North Carolina’s U.S. Senator Richard Burr was willing to fight for clarification in the change in the Senate and that he could do more now after the November midterm elections.

Critical Habitats for endangered fish, shorebird 

Raleigh attorney Todd Roessler of Kilpatrick Townsend and Stockton LLP used his session on the Endangered Species Act to address two upcoming critical habitat designations for the Atlantic sturgeon and rufa red knot.

Roessler said the Atlantic sturgeon was designated as threatened in 2012 and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is in the process of designating its critical habitats now.

Concerning the red knot, Roessler said its designation as a threatened species would come by the end of 2014 and the critical habitats would follow. North Carolina is a popular stopover point for the red knot during fall and spring seasons, so Roessler said there would likely be critical habitat areas along the North Carolina coast.

New critical habitats pose concerns to developers and coastal communities because they give environmental nongovernmental organizations more reason to lobby against controversial projects like terminal groins, Roessler said.

Dredge window extensions 

CB&I client program manager Ken Willson presented updates from an ad hoc committee formed to determine if and how the dredging windows could be extended for regional beaches.

The dredging window now extends from Nov. 16 through April 31 to minimize disruption of nesting local wildlife like sea turtles and birds. However, recent improvements in dredge technology and an increase in conservation efforts could allow the dredging window to be extended, Willson said.

Willson received feedback from dredging companies indicating the price of projects would be considerably cheaper if completed during the summer months.

“We’re looking at 14 percent savings for an event such as the Kure Beach renourishment project, and some projects up in the Outer Banks would be as much as 20 to 22 percent savings …  if instead of building in different years in these small dredge windows you do 12 months straight.”

The ad hoc committee gathered five years of turtle nesting data from eight different beaches throughout the state. That data showed only 7 percent of nesting occurred during May and 7 percent of nests hatched during October. Coupled with conservation efforts, this information could allow the dredging window to be extended into October and May.

Conservation efforts would include relocating turtle nests, which Willson said had a high success rate. To preserve the nests of local bird species such as piping plovers and red knots, the committee would need to seek help from experts of these species.

Willson originally presented the Wrightsville Beach dredging project as an example of a project completed outside the dredging window with no impacts to local resources, but resource agencies gave him anecdotal evidence of trucks driving on the beach before the turtle monitors were able to check for nests.

North Carolina’s offshore wind energy prospects 

North Carolina’s energy profile could benefit from tapping into offshore wind energy potential, Southeastern Coastal Wind Coalition President Brian O’Hara stated.

O’Hara said the southeastern states of North Carolina, Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia have tremendous potential for cost-effective offshore wind energy development.

In August, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management identified approximately 300,000 acres in three areas off the North Carolina coast that could be leased for offshore wind development following an environmental assessment. More than 185,000 identified acres lie in two areas about 10 nautical miles from the mouth of the Cape Fear River.

It will take at least one year to finish the environmental assessment, which will be followed by leasing negotiations, site assessments and construction plans.

In the meantime, O’Hara said the coalition plans to collect data and test the waters with a small-scale demonstration.

“Let’s make the mistakes on a small-scale project, learn the lessons there, answer the questions that can’t be answered by doing studies and apply all those lessons to the larger-scale projects,” O’Hara said.

Nick DeGennaro, a Southport engineer who cited past experience with an energy cooperative in Massachusetts, questioned the viability of offshore wind due to start-up and maintenance costs and coastal infrastructure needs.

“As with any new technology …  cost is obviously a challenge,” O’Hara said. “My view is, this industry will not and should not take off at scale until costs get where they need to be. Costs are not going to get where they need to be by us sitting and doing nothing.”

The coalition hopes to secure enabling state legislation in 2015, which could allow a small-scale demo to launch as soon as 2019.

O’Hara also discussed land-based wind energy potential in the southeast, which he said is increasing as turbine technology advances to capture more wind with taller towers and longer blades. DeGennaro said his concerns about offshore wind development do not apply to terrestrial wind farms.

email cole@luminanews.com

email emmy@luminanews.com 

email miriah@luminanews.com

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