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National Audubon Society sues to stop OIB terminal groin

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By Brian Slattery

The National Audubon Society has challenged the Ocean Isle Beach terminal groin project by filing a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Southern Environmental Law Center filed the lawsuit on behalf of the National Audubon Society on Monday in United States District Court, challenging the corps’ permit authorizing the town to build the terminal groin.

The suit claims building the 1,050-foot rock wall at the east end of Ocean Isle near Shallotte Inlet extending from the dunes, across the beach and into the ocean would only protect buildings immediately west of the structure.

“As a result of stabilizing that small portion of beach, the groin will erode the beach east of the structure and destroy existing recreational beach and wildlife habitat,” the lawsuit claims.

The National Audubon Society also claims the corps found at least one alternative to the terminal groin would also protect the buildings, cost the town less money and require essentially the same level of long-term beach nourishment without building a destructive groin.

“It’s important for the Corps of Engineers to take the right steps to assess the project and ensure there is no other alternative,” said Greg Andeck, director of strategy and government relations for Audubon North Carolina. “Our concern is they did not properly analyze and review all the alternatives available to avoid the destruction of a place like Ocean Isle Beach.”

The lawsuit claims the corps relied exclusively on town consultants to analyze the project and states the terminal groin would permanently and fundamentally change the inlet by eliminating natural shoreline changes.

Andeck said there are few natural inlets and ends of barrier islands left and the terminal groin would have a negative impact on both at Ocean Isle Beach.

“One of the big things to be aware of is the east end of Ocean isle Beach is a refuge for wildlife, and for families,” he said.

Andeck said terminal groins were not allowed in North Carolina for years because trapping sand at the rock wall increases erosion elsewhere.

“They are passing the buck to somewhere else. That’s why Sunset Beach raised concerns about the terminal groin,” he said. “And it’s why the U.S. Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the NC Wildlife Resources Commission all came out against it.”

The suit requests the court vacate the corps’ Draft Environmental Impact Statement, Final Environmental Impact Statement, Record of Decision and terminal groin permit.

After a years-long permitting process, Ocean Isle Beach began preparing to build the terminal groin after officials received the corps record of decision permitting the project Feb. 28.

At the March 14 town meeting, board members unanimously approved a pre-construction services contract with Coastal Planning and Engineering of North Carolina to develop the final design, construction plans and contract bids for the terminal groin to be ready to begin building by November.

The terminal groin project includes constructing a 1,050 linear foot rock wall, including 300 feet on land as a shore anchor for the 750-foot-long rubble mound jetty into the ocean.

The design project also includes filling in a 3,214-foot section of shoreline west of the terminal groin with 264,000 cubic yards of sand from Shallotte Inlet.

In April 2016, Ocean Isle Beach officials submitted the Final Environmental Impact Statement to the corps, including all the options possible to combat beach erosion at Ocean Isle Beach, but stating the town’s preference for the 750-foot terminal groin.

The options included in the FEIS included taking no new action, which would mean continuing the beach replacement projects that have managed beach erosion in the past.

Not taking further action and eventually retreating from the shoreline by demolishing or moving structures as the beach sand erodes further was another alternative.

Other choices would be to continue the same erosion management projects but with more sand added to the beach or relocating the Shallotte Inlet channel and using the sand removed from the inlet for beach renourishment.

The structure would be built just beyond the houses and sandbagged areas along the beach at the end of East Third Street.

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