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Speakers oppose terminal groin for Figure Eight Island

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OGDEN — A proposal to build a porous structure to protect 19 homes at the north end of Figure Eight Island would come at too great a cost to the environment, said nearly two dozen residents who spoke out against the proposed project last week.

About 100 people attended the Sept. 2 public hearing by the Army Corps of Engineers, which is reviewing the required study submitted by Figure Eight outlining potential benefits and environmental consequences. The consensus: a terminal groin would ruin pristine habitat that nesting and migratory birds depend on for survival, ruin the beauty of Rich Inlet and hurt the quality of life for all but the few homeowners whose properties are at the mercy of the naturally shifting inlet channel.

Speaker after speaker sang the praises of the beauty of the inlet and the rich habitat that serves as a sanctuary to more than 90 species of migratory and nesting birds, the endangered Great Lakes piping plover among them.

“Let me tell you about Little Yellow Bluebird,” said Lindsay Addison, a biologist with the state chapter of the National Audubon Society. The bird is endangered because its habitat is disappearing. The female, one member of a few dozen known nesting pairs remaining, has returned to Rich Inlet every year since 2007, and Addison knows her by sight.

“That is her inlet,” Addison said. “We’ve never seen her at another inlet.”

A terminal groin would destroy the bird’s habitat, and that of many others, she said.

“It’s not right on a moral level, and it’s not right in terms of the Endangered Species Act,” Addison said.

Citing the need to protect its tax base of more than $907 million, Figure Eight Island seeks to build a terminal groin at the north end of the island along Rich Inlet.

A terminal groin is a low, jetty-like structure typically made of rock and either steel or concrete piles built to prevent erosion at inlets. The most prominent feature, a loose-rock structure that extends about 500 feet seaward, is meant to allow sand to wash back and forth, which supporters say helps prevent down-shore erosion.

Beach communities say rapidly shifting sand at inlets endangers property and, consequently, the local tax base.

Opponents point to the 30-year ban on oceanfront hardened structures that they say was unwisely breached in 2011 when the N.C. General Assembly approved up to four terminal groin projects along the state’s barrier islands. Four communities — Figure Eight, Bald Head Island, Holden Beach and Ocean Isle Beach — sought permits. The Bald Head terminal groin is under construction.

But a provision added to the Senate budget last week would lift the cap and allow any community where inlet erosion is a problem to obtain a permit.

At least two speakers questioned the accuracy of the study, generated by a consultant for Figure Eight homeowners, suggesting that an independent, third-party analysis would be more telling. Speakers also cited a potential $26 million cost to build and maintain the wall and to mine sand to keep the beach nourished.

No one from Figure Eight Island spoke during the hearing, but David Kellam, president of the Figure Eight Island Homeowners Association, said recently that residents of the island will pay the entire cost, should the permit be approved.

Kellam said most of the rocks would be below the water line “so you would not even know they were there if you were walking on the beach.”

One of the last speakers agreed with previous comments about the potential environmental and quality-of-life consequences, but she also noted the monetary value of clean water and a thriving, diverse ecosystem to the state.

“It’s not the environment versus the economy,” said Dana Sargent, who said she hadn’t intended to speak. “The environment is the economy.”

Written comments will be accepted until Feb. 14. Mail comments to Sugg at the Wilmington Regulatory Field Office, 69 Darlington Ave., Wilmington, NC 28403, or email him at [email protected]

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