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The Coastal Resources Commission will conduct an out-of-town hearing this Thursday, Dec. 12, on changing the designation for Mad Inlet in Sunset Beach.
Residents will have an opportunity to comment at the hearing, scheduled for 11:45 a.m. Thursday at the Hilton DoubleTree Hotel in Atlantic Beach.
Sunset Beach island resident Sue Weddle plans to attend and has been alerting other residents to do likewise in the wake of the proposal to lift the inlet hazard designation for Mad Inlet, which has been closed on the west end of the Sunset Beach island since the 1990s.
Comments prior to the hearing must be sent by Dec. 12 to Baxter Davis, director of the North Carolina Division of Coastal Management, at Braxton.Davis@ncdenr.gov.
Last week, Sunset Beach Town Council approved sending a resolution asking that the inlet hazard designation for Mad Inlet remain unchanged.
The N.C. Division of Coastal Management conducted a similar hearing Nov. 6 in Sunset Beach. Sunset Beach developer Ed Gore said lifting the inlet hazard designation for that area is appropriate, citing gathering sand there that he thinks will continue. Sammy Varnam also spoke on Gore’s behalf at the hearing.
Other residents in attendance at the standing-room-only session brought questions and concerns.
Mike Giles, coastal advocate with the North Carolina Coastal Federation, said Mad Inlet is like a ticking time bomb that has the potential to blow open and affect flood zones.
Other concerns were expressed by Richard Hilderman, who owns property in Sunset Beach, and Bill Ducker, chairman of the Bird Island Preservation Society.
According to a press release issued Oct. 31 by the North Carolina Department of Environmental and Natural Resources, Mad Inlet closed naturally in 1997, ending a watery separation between the Sunset Beach island and Bird Island, and is not expected to re-open.
As a result, the CRC has determined the inlet hazard designation is no longer necessary for permitting purposes.
Mike Lopazanski, policy and planning section chief with the N.C. Division of Coastal Management, said the agency would consider impacts affecting property owners in the area. The measure, if approved, would lift restrictions on development in that area. He cited 126 properties in the area, where less than 10 are undeveloped and would no longer be required to adhere to inlet hazard rules if the change is approved. He said that would not affect local, federal or environmental restrictions.
“If you have supported Gov. McCrory, it would be a great idea to let him and his office know how displeased you will be if the Coastal Resources Commission changes the designation,” Weddle wrote in an email Dec. 8 that she sent to fellow island residents.
“Gov. McCrory has appointed a number of new people to the CRC, and I’m sure he could have some impact on a decision,” Weddle wrote.
Weddle also forwarded a copy of an email she sent to Davis, which stated information presented by the Division of Coastal Management at the Sunset Beach hearing was erroneous.
“This issue should not move forward until an accurate assessment of the impacts of removing the inlet hazard designation are presented and an informed decision can be made,” Weddle wrote.
Weddle said the state’s analysis “fails to take into account the property that could accommodate 30 to 40 oceanfront lots that have accreted from the 40th Street walkover west to the boundary of the Bird Island Conservation Reserve. It is the development of these lots that would seriously impact the Bird Island Conservation Reserve and the sitting property owners on the built-out Sunset Beach oceanfront and built-out properties on 40th Street by a change in the inlet hazard designation.”
Weddle said the only way a developer could reach the newly accreted oceanfront land would be to extend Main Street with a bridge that would swing out over the tidal marsh and connect to the newly accreted land. The inlet hazard designation doesn’t allow such a bridge.
“If the inlet hazard designation for Mad Inlet goes away, this prohibition on any structure larger than 5,000 square feet goes away,” Weddle wrote.
“All of this development would negatively affect the Bird Island Conservation Reserve, which is intended to preserve a slice of the North Carolina oceanfront and tidal estuarine as it has been through time immemorial,” Weddle wrote. “The taxpayers of North Carolina paid $4.3 million for this pristine reserve through the Clean Water Management fund, the Natural Heritage Foundation, and the NC Department of Transportation.”
Removing the hazard designation for Mad Inlet would also negatively impact oceanfront property owners at Sunset Beach because the newly accreted land at what used to be the end of the Sunset Beach island is a block oceanward of the current line of oceanfront properties, Weddle said.
“Then, too, the property owners on 40th Street would be negatively impacted,” she added. “Currently from their decks on the marsh, they can look to the ocean. If a number of houses are built on the newly created land, they would then be looking at the backside of those houses.”
Laura Lewis is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or firstname.lastname@example.org.