The 9-foot-tall sandbag wall on North Topsail Beach is what the N.C. Coastal Resources Commission calls “supersized.” That’s because the commission approved the wall despite its being 3 feet taller than the maximum allowed height.
But super or not, the wall cannot stop the ocean’s advance. Tides are already sending water under homes on the island’s northern tip and driveways and stairways have washed away. A multimillion dollar beach nourishment project washed away in a single summer.
The problems on Topsail should convince state lawmakers and regulators that it’s time to reconsider the developer-friendly approach to North Carolina’s low-lying coastal areas. Sandbags can’t hold back the sea. Neither will a state policy allowing “terminal groins,” barriers of rock and steel that run perpendicular to the shore in a futile effort to make a shifting coastline stable. And wishing mixed with bridges and constant road repairs to N.C. 12 won’t stop the movement of the Outer Banks.
That has always been the case with nature and her scraping tides and blasting hurricanes. Now it’s becoming more so with geological and climate change.
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A new report requested by the Coastal Resources Commission projects that the sea is rising at varying rates along the North Carolina shore, but it is rising. It could be up 4 inches in Southport and more than a foot on the northern Outer Banks. Not only is the sea rising, it’s rising at an increasing rate, said the report prepared by the commission’s advisory science panel.
North Carolina is now the first state with a comprehensive forecast of how sea level increases will affect different points on its coast.
East Carolina University geologist Stan Riggs, a panel member, said the rising sea level will magnify the impact of storms. “If you’re going to build sewage plants or hospitals or highways, you’d better be thinking about the longer term,” he said
Sound planning and regulations that account for nature’s patterns rather than developers’ plans are the right response. Sandbags aren’t.