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Save the beaches of the Outer Banks (OBX)

May 12, 2007 1 comment

Imagine no more OBX beaches . . . Many of Outer Bank’s beaches are in trouble. Why are they in trouble? They have been pummeled by nor’easters, tropical depressions and hurricanes. Dunes that were once 10 – 15 feet high have been reduced in size, or on some beaches, completely blasted away by the storms. Isabel left her mark on many dunes and beaches of the Outer Banks. Yet the damage to the beaches remains only partly abated. Every year the Army Corps of Engineers requests funds for restoration of the Outer Banks beaches, and every year their request goes unfunded. As a result, some beaches which once had wide strands of 30 – 50 feet of sand may have only 10 – 20 feet today.

Those who do not live near the beaches may think that taxpayer dollars should not be used to restore beaches.  However, a recent Army Corps of Engineers Shore Protection Benefits Study concluded that,  

“only 35% of the benefits of beach nourishment occur locally, while “65% accrue to people who reside elsewhere.” This supports the coastal communities’ longstanding belief that the majority of benefits from beach restoration projects are not local benefits, but national benefits. The study also finds that, while beach restoration is likely to increase tourism and therefore increase local tax revenue, an increase in revenue to the local government is “unlikely to be large enough to fund an increased non-Federal cost-share from the current 35% to 50% or 65% of the project re-nourishment costs.” The study holds that to be true “even if the State participates by paying as much as 75% of the non-Federal cost-share.” The study also concludes that when recreational benefits are not included, that is “when there is no improvement to the quality of the beach experience”, the result is “zero” increase in regional benefits. In other words, when the storm damage reduction is the sole focus of a project, the local community does not benefit from any additional tourism revenue.”

 

 OBX provides recreation to visitors from throughout the USA and Canada, as North Carolina beaches are well-known as some of the finest in the world. Those who feel that restoring the beaches to their former state benefits only those living at the beach might be interested to know that in fact, there are several OBX public beaches within a 2 – 6 hours from Washington D.C., Richmond, Williamsburg, and of course many communities in North Carolina. These beaches improve the quality of life for those citizens, by offering recreational opportunities to anyone who can drive to them, and because they do not limit access to only the wealthy, or charge admission to them.  

The USA is a great nation, and we can be proud of its past great engineering feats (Verrazano Narrows Bridge, Golden Gate Bridge, the aerospace structures at Kennedy Space Center). It might sound like I’m switching topics – but why shouldn’t we use the best engineering skills in the USA to work towards the problem of replenishing, restoring and saving the Outer Banks beaches? Some years ago I backpacked across Europe and spent a few days in the Netherlands. One day I took a bike trip to the north, towards a small village that borders the North Sea. Our guide told us how the Netherlands had reclaimed much of the land that we had biked on from the north sea. We could see for ourselves the sea walls, dikes and the barriers that all work together to keep the sea at bay. 

How is it that this can be done in the Netherlands – but it cannot be done in the USA? Are the engineers in the United States not as clever as the engineers in the Netherlands?  Are the Netherlands richer than the United States, and able to spend more money on keeping the sea from deluging the land and causing great damage to it? 

I think the answer to these questions is that we could do this in the USA, the engineers in the USA are quite clever, and that unfortunately engineering projects in the USA have been underfunded for many years. At least that’s what The American Society of Civil Engineers states on their website, in their annual Report Card for America’s Infrastructure. 

 Non-profit groups that support beach renourishment are: The American Shore & Beach Preservation Association (ASBPA). The North Carolina Beach, Inlet & Waterway Association (NCBIWA) also supports shore protection and beach nourishment.  

Why do our elected representatives exude this nonchalance about the fact that our beautiful OBX beaches could easily disappear?  For example, this representative who violently opposes the Dare County beach nourishment project (Congressman Blumenauer’s comments that, “Artificial beach construction or “beach renourishment” is a particularly damaging and wasteful practice of the Army Corps. . . Unfortunately, artificial beach construction uses the money of all federal taxpayers to subsidize those few who live in beach towns.)

 If the Outer Banks beaches disappear, where would the 3+ million people who live in the areas of Washington D.C., Richmond, Williamsburg and Norfolk, and Newport News go instead for their beach activities? Should they all go to the states that are slated to receive much more funding for beach projects – Virginia Beach, Ocean City, Rehoboth, and Cape May?  That doesn’t make any sense.

When I was a kid and living in Maine the natives had a saying – you can’t eat scenery. Saving the Outer Banks beaches is saving a cash cow, and providing recreational opportunities for millions of people across the USA who visit for their summer vacation.  

When the beaches of the Outer Banks are gone, and are no more dunes, and the ocean has reclaimed all the land where once people swam, picnicked, frolicked, fished, and surfed it will be too late to act.  Now is the time for all of us to write to our congressmen and senators   and ask them to support beach nourishment projects for Dare County beaches, Hatteras and Ocracoke, NC.  Some suggested wording is below:  

–Provide necessary funding and support to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to allow them to meet project deadlines for Dare County Beaches, Hatteras & Ocracoke, NC,· 

Support increased funding of all North Carolina beach restoration projects;

Require that the Corps of Engineers give equal weight to the economic benefits of tourism and recreation as well as storm damage reduction and the environment in formulating beach nourishment projects;

Support guidelines that enable local governments to undertaking interim erosion control activities prior to completion of a pending federal beach nourishment project without being penalized.  

There is more wording here:

http://www.asbpa.org/pdfs/0207asbpaLOBBYcard.pdf 

Take a stance and tell your elected representative you want to save the Outer Banks Beaches. Tell them that you want our sons, daughters, grandsons and granddaughters to have as much fun and wonder enjoying the beautiful Outer Banks as we do today.  

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Categories: Outer Banks beaches