Editorials

NC ignores warnings on coastal development

Trying to be heard above the storm on a narrow dune built to protect N.C. 12, coastal geologist Stan Riggs of East Carolina University spoke last March about erosion and sea-level rise. He quit Monday as a science adviser to the state saying his advice on proper coastal management was being ignored.
Trying to be heard above the storm on a narrow dune built to protect N.C. 12, coastal geologist Stan Riggs of East Carolina University spoke last March about erosion and sea-level rise. He quit Monday as a science adviser to the state saying his advice on proper coastal management was being ignored. bsiceloff@newsobserver.com

Stan Riggs, 78, is a respected East Carolina University scientist and a righteous fellow who helped found a panel to advise state officials on coastal issues 20 years ago. But he’ll leave the panel now for entirely unsurprising reasons.

The science panel projected data on things like sea-level rise for 90 years into the future, and found a rise of more than three feet likely. That offended development interests that have the ear of Gov. Pat McCrory. So the state told the panel to go only 30 years into the future. Surprise: The rise in that time was much less.

Cue the applause from developers, who worry that projections like the original ones might cause problems with new projects along the fragile coast.

Basically, Riggs and the panel urged caution and restraint. In addition to the sea-level rise, they worried about increasing the number of terminal groins at inlets, which causes sand to move elsewhere, changing rules to allow for bigger sandbags in more places and for longer times and changing flood zone designations.

Said Riggs, in a letter: “From the science perspective, these political actions are totally unacceptable and threaten the future viability of N.C.’s coastal economy and jeopardize the coastal resources. They compromise the local villages and citizens.”

Riggs said, “I believe the once highly respected and effective science panel has been subtly defrocked and is now an ineffective body.”

Riggs is a geology professor at ECU and a most respected scientist, and he just had enough, not wanting to be a part of a panel he believes has been ignored.

Riggs was operating in a world dominated by Republicans and the business interests that tell them what to do. But they did not tell Riggs what to do, which is why they’re undoubtedly happy to see him go.

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