State Politics

Founder of NC science panel resigns, cites political actions


Associated Press

The coastal and marine geologist who helped found a science panel to advise the state on coastal issues has resigned, saying political actions have rendered the once respected group ineffective.

In a letter dated Monday, Stan Riggs of East Carolina University said he was resigning from the N.C. Coastal Resources Commission’s science panel partially because of controversy over a report on sea-level rise. Instead of projecting for 90 years, as the panel had done previously, it was told to project for 30 years.

“From the science perspective, these political actions are totally unacceptable and threaten the future viability of NC’s coastal economy and jeopardize the coastal resources,” Riggs wrote. “They compromise the local villages and citizens.”

In addition to the sea-level rise report, he listed other issues, such as: legislation to increase the number of terminal groins at six North Carolina inlets; rule changes allowing for bigger sandbags at more locations for long period of times; and removal of thousands of coastal buildings either totally from former designated flood zones or placing them in reduced hazard zones.

“I believe the once highly respected and effective science panel has been subtly defrocked and is now an ineffective body,” Riggs wrote of the panel that he helped found in 1996.

In an interview Tuesday, the 78-year-old Riggs said a friend’s funeral spurred him to resign and concentrate on a nonprofit he founded several years ago called North Carolina’s Land of Water.

“I looked around at the funeral and said, ‘quit fooling around. Don’t play games anymore. I can’t influence the legislature, but I can educate the public. That’s what I do,” said Riggs, who is a geology professor at East Carolina University and has worked on coastal issues in the state for more than 50 years.

The chair of the N.C. Coastal Resources Commission, Frank Gorham, said he appreciated Riggs’ passion and hard work. “I’m very sad because he’s done a great job for the state and for the state panel,” Gorham said. “I will always respect him, and I appreciate what he’s done for us.”

But limiting the sea-level rise report to 30 years made more people pay attention because it’s too easy to dismiss a report that forecasts 90 years into the future, he said.

Greg Rudolph, shore protection manager for Carteret County, said Riggs’ influence was especially critical for the part of the 2015 report that included not only sea level rise but also sinking land, then divided the state into zones based on that change.

“We explained why that was happening,” said Rudolph, who was added to the science panel in 2014 and who has known Riggs since he advised Rudolph on his master’s thesis. “That was a big deal. And that got lost in the controversy of it. Stan was really behind that zoning of the coast. That’s the level of expertise that’s going to be missed.”

Martha Waggoner: @mjwaggonernc

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