CAROLINA BEACH, N.C. (WECT) - Just in time for the warmer weather, the Coastal Resource Commission has granted a variance to the Town of Carolina Beach that allows the placement of a wheelchair accessible mat on the sand.
The mat is provided by the nonprofit group Ocean Cure and has been used for several beach seasons, but, in 2020, the state notified the town and the group that the mat had to go since it did not comply with the Coastal Management Resources Act (CAMA) or have proper permits.
After applying for a CAMA permit and being denied, Ocean Cure founder Kevin Murphy reached out to town leaders who have been supportive of Ocean Cure’s efforts. Together, they fought for the beach mat all the way up to the Coastal Resource Commission last week.
Their persistence paid off.
The CRC granted the town the variance and Murphy said he hopes to have the mats in place by Memorial Day.
The mats have been popular for beach visitors who face restrictions and accessibility issues due to being in wheelchairs. Ocean Cure also provides a number of beach wheelchairs for those looking to make it on the sand, but for many, staying in their own chair is preferable.
“Ocean Cure is going on its 14th year, the basis behind was really to use surfing to help people with disabilities build self esteem, get some stress-free relief, just get out in the water and get out in the ocean, since, it has really changed a little bit. Obviously that is still a huge aspect but we have kind of really changed into making the beach accessible too. We’ve got seven beach wheelchairs that work out wonderful, and this beach accessible mat has been a huge deal,” Murphy said.
While there are beach wheelchairs available, they are limited and those who need them are reliant on others to get onto the sand - with the beach access mats, that is not the case.
“For the past three years we have been able to put them down and allow people to access the beach really under their own power and give people who have disabilities a little bit more freedom where they weren’t always relying on someone else or Ocean Cure to get them down onto the sand,” Murphy said.
Murphy said he knew the permit would get denied and that a variance would ultimately need to be approved since the mat did not meet the standards of CAMA.
“We filed for the permit the first time and that permit was denied, but that was all part of the plan so we had to file for the variance which is an exception to the rule. Braxton Davis, one of the heads of coastal area management and he was really for it ... so they approved the variance which allows us to put it down as long as it continues to be a success,” he said.
The mats will be placed at the base of the Carolina Beach Boardwalk this upcoming summer and will be removed in case of hazardous weather like hurricanes.