WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - It’s a lawsuit four years in the making, and one the Town of Ocean Isle Beach hopes is resolved soon so construction of a terminal groin (a type of jetty) can move forward, while conservationists hope that does not happen.
The town hopes to protect its beaches and properties along the ocean while conservation groups have argued plans for a terminal groin would be detrimental to the environment and filed suit to stop the project. In August of 2017, the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of the Audubon North Carolina bringing a halt to a proposed terminal groin project.
Now, after being dismissed by a federal judge in September of 2019, the lawsuit is ready to be heard by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.
So what exactly is a terminal groin, and what is the concern?
In the most basic sense, a terminal groin is a type of rock wall built on the shoreline, extending into the water that are used to help grow beaches and slow erosion.
“A groin is built perpendicular to the coast and works similar to the way a jetty works. But groins are usually smaller than jetties and built on straight stretches of beach, not near inlets or channels. They are often built in a series of parallel structures on one section of beach and can be made of wood, concrete, steel or stone. Terminal groins are relatively new concoctions. They are the name proponents have given to small jetties built at inlets — the terminus of islands,” according to the N.C. Coastal Federation.
Proponents of these projects say groins help stem erosion from the beaches and help project properties, however, there are environmental concerns when it comes to installing hard structures.
“While they can protect roads, beach homes and other buildings threatened by erosion, hard structures usually cause increased erosion further down the beach. Both jetties and groins, for example, act like dams to physically stop the movement of sand. They work by preventing longshore drift from washing sediment down the coast. As a result, they cause a buildup of sand on the side protected by the structure — which is precisely what they’re intended to do,” according to the N.C. Coastal Federation.
However, the buildup of sand comes at a cost for other properties.
“...Areas further “downstream” on the coast are cut off from natural longshore drift by these barrier-like structures. No longer replenished by the sand that usually feeds them, these areas experience worsened erosion,” according to the group.
North Carolina has a history of avoiding the problems brought to other communities through the use of hardened structures and a ban on them was in place for years, since 1985 --- until it was repealed in 2011.
Senate Bill 110 authorized the construction of terminal groins and repealed the efforts of conservationists.
When the Town of Ocean Isle Beach decided it wanted its own terminal groin in 2017, the lawsuit was filed. The conservationist group claimed that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the town’s plan for a terminal groin would be detrimental to the environment.
“We’re in court because the Corps failed to fairly consider alternatives that would cost Ocean Isle less, manage erosion, and protect the natural beach on the east end of the island when it approved this destructive project,” said Geoff Gisler, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center at the time the lawsuit was filed. “Federal law requires the Corps to choose the least destructive alternative; with the terminal groin, it approved the most destructive.”
Even U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed that the project would be detrimental to the ecosystem.
“A project of this nature will destroy the ecological functioning of this inlet and the surrounding areas. The science is unequivocal. I see no unique issues or areas of significant uncertainty in need of further evaluation. We oppose this project. There is nothing more to discuss,” Pete Benjamin, an employee of the federal agency wrote about the project in 2011, according to emails obtained by Coastal Review Online.
However, proponents of the groin want to move forward.
After the decision was entered by the federal judge to dismiss the case, the National Audubon Society filed an appeal with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. According to the town, they are scheduled to have their arguments heard next month.
“The Town has been informed by our attorney that the oral argument before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has been scheduled for December 8, 2020. We are hopeful that a final decision on this matter will be rendered by the judge shortly after the oral argument is completed. We will post additional updates as they are made available to the Town,” according to a Facebook Post from the town.