Leaders with the Town of Holden Beach met Friday morning to discuss the ongoing debate over the installation of a terminal groin on the eastern side of the town’s beach.
A terminal groin is a long structure that people install on beaches extending into the ocean. Its purpose is to block and trap sand from being washed away by waves, so the shoreline doesn’t shrink.
Environmental attorney Clark Wright, who the town contracted in December 2017, spoke in Friday's meeting publicly before a closed-door session with town leaders.
"The board was concerned they might have options foreclosed if they didn't get advice from a, hopefully, expert environmental attorney," said Wright.
Town leaders want to install a 700-foot, T-shaped terminal groin to reduce severe erosion along the eastern shoreline of Holden Beach.
They hope the terminal groin could help protect infrastructure, roads, homes, beaches, dunes and wildlife habitat from erosion.
"You are a guinea pig if you do one of these," said Wright. "Because you couldn't do them for 40 years, and you're part of this pilot project, and you're collecting data. And we don't know what the results are going to be."
Wright said the goal with a terminal group is to engineer a "sweet spot," where just enough sand is trapped.
"With a groin, you try to make it porous enough where it's not stealing all of it," said Wright. "And low enough so where during storm events, sand can go over it, and short enough where sand can still get around it. But still long enough and thick enough to capture sand to hold and fill it."
But environmental groups blasted the proposal, saying the stone structure would do harm than good.
Wright said the terminal group debate represents the possibility of future fights over sand between coastal communities.
It's the "coastal version of the water wars of the west. What we're going to have is more and more sand wars. 'We want it,'" said Wright.
Engineers study shoreline-saving proposals
Last month, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers published a lengthy document outlining the proposal and their analysis of how different shoreline-saving options would impact the environment.
Every year, the eastern shore of Holden Beach loses between 3 and 8 feet of shoreline from erosion, according to the North Carolina Division of Coastal Management.
Since 1993, 27 oceanfront properties have been lost to erosion in Holden Beach.
“Frequent repeated beach fill placements, which are rapidly lost to erosion, are extremely costly and provide only short-term benefits that are insufficient to protect the East End of Holden Beach,” according to the proposal.
Two different terminal groins were initially proposed - a “short” one at 800 feet long, and an “intermediate” version at 1,000 feet long.
Both would be made of granite armor stone, and would allow some sand to pass through and over the barrier.
Both versions would also involve dumping more sand on the beach in renourishment projects every four years.
The terminal groins may “create economic benefits in terms of enhanced recreational fishing opportunities on the East End of Holden Beach although these gains have the potential to be offset by diminished visual appeal and/or any potential detrimental environmental effects produced by physical alteration of the shoreline,” according to the report.
“The NC terminal groin law allows for six terminal groins, of which only one (Bald Head Island) has been constructed to date,” the report reads.
The environmental impacts of the terminal groin include permanent destruction of about half an acre of aquatic life under the stones, according to the report.
“The Corps determines that the proposed project may affect federally listed endangered or threatened species or their formally designated critical habitat,” according to the report.
The public comment period for the construction of the terminal groin ends April 16, 2018.
Check back on this article for full coverage of the town hall meeting. Follow live updates from WECT's Ben Smart during the meeting.
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