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‘A long term dream:’ Ocean Isle Beach poised to begin construction on terminal groin after lobbying, lengthy legal battles

Published: Oct. 14, 2021 at 6:13 PM EDT
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OCEAN ISLE BEACH, N.C. (WECT) - Leaders in Ocean Isle Beach have been working for years to preserve the coastline and stave of beach erosion at the end of the island. The journey appears to be coming to a close after nearly 20 years of legislative work and lawsuits.

Crews will begin work on their terminal groin project as soon as the environmental window opens up November 16. The groin essentially traps the sand to better secure the beachfront.

Some sand will still be able to wash around the groin, but the structure aims to be a long-term solution to the erosion that’s tormented the east end of the island for ages. Storms and the advancing shoreline have been taking back homes and roads, and disrupting utility lines for some time now.

Nothing remains of the home Mayor Debbie Smith built on Third Street back in the 1980′s. Feet away from what’s left of the road sits massive piles of sandbags. Third Street is now oceanfront, and First and Second Street are no more.

When the house was first built, there were two to three rows of homes in front, until the ocean began to inundate the properties. Smith sold the home decades before a storm ultimately knocked it off the sandbags supporting the structure, but kept watch as it was reduced to debris and cleared away piece by piece.

“It’s pretty shocking. It’s actually kind of a tourist attraction. When I bring my family over, I show them. I’m worried it might affect my house someday,” said island resident Colin Blair.

A remedy isn’t far away though — US Army Corps of Engineers beach renourishment and the terminal groin construction beginning in a matter of weeks.

“The terminal groin the town is working on, it hopefully is a long-term solution. It will stabilize the end of the island and the sand we pump as part of this job will stay there longer,” said USACE Project engineer Brennan Dooley. “It’s a great partnership.”

The entire product is expected to cost $11 million, which the town is paying for with accommodations tax money it has saved over the years. The mayor says they’ve been able to save the money slowly over the years because the process to bring the groin to fruition has taken so long.

The town had to first change the law to allow the groin. After the new law passed, it secured the necessary permits from USACE, CAMA and wildlife, and then was hit by a lawsuit the week it planned to open construction bids.

Ultimately, the town won the lawsuit that aimed to take the project permits, but the ruling was appealed twice and went to both the state and federal court.

Mayor Debbie Smith, though says the town’s elected leaders never stopped pushing.

“These property owners — this town — deserve to try and help themselves, to save infrastructure, to save our water lines, our sewer lines. We’ve moved two to three manholes after storms — that shouldn’t happen,” said Smith. “It’s the beginning of a long-term dream so I’m very optimistic that it’s going to make a positive impact on the last mile or better of Ocean Isle Beach.”

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