Don't erode N.C.'s wise ban on jetties, seawalls

We shouldn't even be having this conversation. The science is clear. There's wise policy in place, backed up by a solid law.

Yet rich special interests are quietly mounting an effort in the waning days of the General Assembly to get around North Carolina's sensible ban on the use of hardened structures such as groins on its coastline. It should not happen.

Here's the issue: Thirty years ago, North Carolina banned the use of such structures – seawalls, jetties and groins of any kind. That restriction reflects a smart, realistic bow to the fact wind, waves, tides and erosion always reshape the state's lovely beaches, and efforts to undo those natural forces are both futile and harmful.

The science is simple and unequivocal: Hardened structures such as groins and seawalls disrupt the natural flow of sand. It builds up on one side of a wall, leaving property on the other side with an insufficient flow. That means the beach expands on one side of a groin. The property on that side is protected. Meanwhile, on the other side, the beach erodes more drastically, deprived of sand.

North Carolina's precious, valuable beaches are publicly owned assets. Prohibiting groins and seawalls has worked to preserve them. It's worked so well, in fact, lawmakers made it law five years ago. The state's approach is viewed as a national model.

Yet coastal property owners on privately owned Figure Eight Island – many of whom purchased or built in erosion-prone hazard areas at the ocean's edge – do not want the law to apply to them. They formed a political action committee called the “Preservation Island Society” to lobby lawmakers in an effort to get around the hardened structure ban.

Last year the Senate passed SB 599, pitched as a modest change in state law to help communities experiencing erosion. It's not. It would undermine the ban on groins and seawalls, period.

Now, days before the 2008 General Assembly is set to adjourn, there's talk in the House of a similar measure – one favorable to special interests on an exclusive island but detrimental to a policy that has for a generation protected one of the state's most valuable public assets.

Let's call it the Raleigh rule: When the tide goes out on a session of the General Assembly, there's always unsightly debris left on the sand. That's because lawmakers often slip in measures during the final days and hours, when eyes are on adjournment, that wouldn't float when everyone's paying attention.

We shouldn't even be having a conversation about eroding the ban on seawalls and groins, much less a hush-hush last-minute one. A hasty change would leave very unsightly debris indeed.