Ocean Isle Beach pushes for largest terminal groin

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By Brian Slattery

OCEAN ISLE BEACH — If Ocean Isle Beach is approved for a terminal groin, town officials want to go big.

Board members voted March 20 to endorse a 750-foot terminal groin recommendation to the Army Corps of Engineers.

Town officials met with Ken Willson and Tom Jarrett of Coastal Planning and Engineering of North Carolina to review an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that is required for approval of a terminal groin project.

Willson said the draft EIS will include all options that could be done to combat beach erosion at Ocean Isle Beach, but it will also state the town’s preference is for the 750-foot terminal groin alternative.

Another option included in the EIS draft was taking no new action, which would mean just continuing beach renourishment projects that have managed beach erosion in the past.

Other alternatives would be to do the same projects, but with more sand added to the beach.

The terminal-groin alternative includes options to build either a 250-foot, 500-foot or 750-foot structure. The structure would be built just beyond the houses and sandbagged areas along the beach at the end of East Third Street.

The terminal groin would collect sand wedged in along the west side of the structure. The farther out into the water, the more sand would be collected.

While Ocean Isle Beach would still need renourishing projects that have maintained beach sand, the terminal groin would shift sand placement further down the beach. It could also cut down on the amount of sand required for renourishment and extend the schedule so sand does not have to be replaced as often.

The current sand replacement cycle adds 408,000 cubic yards of sand every three years. Ocean Isle Beach has shared the cost of the projects with federal programs.

With federal money becoming more difficult to procure, the terminal groin is considered a method to cut renourishment costs.

“A big focus with the project since we’ve been involved is to make the federal (funding) for the project a benefit to do and continue renourishment,” Willson said.

Willson said continuing to replace sand on the beaches through dredging will cost $66 million over the next 30 years, with the federal government funding $43 million and the other $23 million coming from Ocean Isle Beach or other non-federal funding.

If they proceed with a 750-foot terminal groin, the project would cost $46 million with the cost split 50/50 — $23 million in federal funding and $23 million from local or non-federal funding.

Saving the federal government $20 million would help the Army Corps of Engineers look favorably on the terminal groin project, Willson said.

“Seven hundred fifty feet is the way to go,” Mayor Pro Tem Dean Walters said.

Jarrett said if the town is permitted to build a 750-foot terminal groin but can’t afford the project, it could build it in phases, using the permit to build a 500-foot groin, then add to it later.

“I was told in 1989 or 1990, we would never save the east end without a structure. That was Tom Jarrett who told that to me,” Mayor Debbie Smith said.

“We have been saving for this. Hopefully by the time it is ready we can pay for it,” she said.

Board members at the meeting voted unanimously 3-0 to make the town’s recommendation 750 feet. Commissioner Betty Williamson was absent.

Willson said a draft of the EIS that will include the town recommendation has to be presented to the Army Corps of Engineers, which will select a least environmentally damaging practical alternative.

The next step will be scheduling a public hearing to receive comments on the EIS draft. Willson said that hearing could happen in the summer.

After the hearing, a final EIS can be completed, which he anticipated would be submitted by the end of the year.

The final step is the Corps of Engineers making a record of decision, Willson said.

If everything is approved, the expected window to begin construction would run from November 2015 to March 2016.

Ocean Isle Beach is not the only island pursuing a terminal groin project, Willson said Figure Eight Island is readying its final EIS. Bald Head Island is preparing for a public hearing on the draft EIS. And Holden Beach is a little behind OIB in the process, Willson said.

Brian Slattery is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or bslattery@brunswickbeacon.com.