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SUNSET BEACH — As Mad Inlet continues to be a hot topic, the town has signed off on a driveway permit application from developer Ed Gore at the west end of Main Street.
Town clerk Lisa Anglin confirmed last week town building inspections director Sandy Wood signed a permit application to be directed to the North Carolina Department of Transportation.
“Driveways that connect to a state road are permitted through NC DOT not the municipality,” Anglin wrote in an email response March 21 to the Beacon.
“When the driveway is connecting to a state road that is within municipal limits the permit application requires the signature of a Town Official,” Anglin wrote. “Once signed, by the Town Official, the paperwork is then returned to the applicant who forwards the complete permit application to NC DOT for approval or denial. The Town is not the permitting agency and therefore is not required to retain any of the documentation.”
The Beacon previously requested a copy of the application from Wood.
At town council’s monthly workshop March 18, local property owner Richard Hilderman, a retired Clemson University biochemistry professor, recapped the Coastal Resources Commission (CRC) Science Panel discussions in February and showed photos of the now-closed inlet area at spring high tide levels.
He cited a hearing in town last November when 45 comments were submitted not to remove the inlet hazard designation for the area. Since the panel voted in February to remove the designation, Hilderman said the inlet hazard area needs to be redefined.
“What we need to focus on is, is this a hazardous area?” he said.
He cited a map and photographs outlining Sunset Beach to the adjacent creek and Bird Island to the west.
“In conclusion, the majority of Mad Inlet is covered by water at spring tide,” Hilderman said. “This is indeed a hazardous area. To develop this area will require blocking, diverting water flow from this area. This most likely will have a negative impact on the marshes surrounding this area.”
After development, if the inlet were to reopen even for a short period of time, Hilderman said it could be disastrous.
Sammy Varnam urged putting misconceptions to bed. He and Gore have both said the area is accreting sand annually.
Varnam said they have the photos to prove it and “further discredit negative people who wish to stop progress at Sunset Beach.”
They cited “frivolous lawsuits” filed by the same people who delayed construction of the new bridge as well as the sewer system.
Varnam said there has been “zero erosion” in the area cited by Hilderman for spring tides.
“The beach has accreted, so don’t get too hung up in all this science stuff that is not facts,” Varnam said.
Carol Santavicca, who chairs the town planning board, said the town created zoning many years ago to allow for development that would be the least invasive for that delicate area. She said there are all kinds of state and Federal Emergency Management Agency regulations as well.
“It’s gone through a regimen that is going to make it as safe as possible for preserving the best of that area and not allowing anything to damage the environment,” she said. “We have to start from there because that’s our history.”
Resident Katie Hovermale urged council to table any development and construction in that area until it has more information from an outside entity not connected to the town in any way.
Mayor Pro Tem Lou De Vita, who chaired last week’s workshop, said that’s what he thought the CRC is.
Hovermale said the science panel did not investigate further possibilities.
Gore said his father bought Sunset Beach in 1955 and that he is not going to argue with scientific allegations.
“The truth will set you free, and the truth has not been revealed by the naysayers here and never will be,” he said. “So I will just say listen to them, but also listen to the truth.”
Council has indicated it will hold off on consideration of a proposed police beach patrol and purchase of fire department beach equipment.
Sunset Beach Fire Chief Kevin Dempsey said he needs to know whether to figure it into the budget for the next fiscal year.
De Vita said the last thing he knew was it has been moved for consideration next year.
Town councilwoman Carol Scott said she doesn’t want to approve the proposal for this summer and recommends it not be done this year.
De Vita said purchase of the proposed vehicles increases the town’s liability exposure in the event of an accident caused by the town’s negligence.
Scott said last summer was horrible with rip currents worse than any she’s seen in the 40 years she’s been coming here. She is hoping signs the town puts up and information that is distributed will help educate people.
“I’m not in favor of doing anything until this summer passes,” she said. “If we get to a point if we have another summer like we had last year, my position will change 180 degrees on what we need to do. We had one freak summer. I don’t think it makes sense to do anything at this point based on our history for the last 40 years.”
Town councilman Terry Johnson said he’s concerned if “we don’t do anything now when we can.”
Laura Lewis is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or email@example.com.