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Challenge filed to Sunset Beach developer's permit

Published: Aug. 11, 2016 at 8:15 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 12, 2016 at 11:52 AM EDT
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SUNSET BEACH, NC (WECT) - The Southern Environmental Law Center filed a challenge Thursday to a state permit that would allow a private developer to build 21 oceanfront homes in Sunset Beach.

"This state permit would allow the destruction of dunes that buffer the community from storms and hurricanes, and jeopardize the integrity of Bird Island," said Geoff Gisler, senior attorney, Southern Environmental Law Center. "Under this illegal permit, the community would lose the natural setting that makes Sunset Beach so unique for a questionable development in a hazardous location."

One claim outlined in the filing is the state's permit illegally allows the developer to bulldoze 15 acres of protective dunes at Sunset Beach. Dunes serve as critical habitat for wildlife and vital protection to beach communities like Sunset Beach faced with the threats of hurricanes and storms.

The filing also claims the development would also destroy an area enjoyed by residents and visitors who fish, bird watch and enjoy the sunsets at the same location.

"This project threatens to undo the work done decades ago to protect Bird Island," said Mike Giles, North Carolina Coastal Federation's Coastal Advocate in Wrightsville Beach. "We will ask the court to provide the protection that the State failed to."

Public sewer utilities cannot be extended due to the hazardous location where the permit allows the developer to build. The developer's current plan includes septic systems, which are prohibited under the Sunset Beach land use plan due to the accompanying groundwater pollution and threat of flooding.

"The distinct ecosystems which make up the Sunset Beach coastal area include an array of extensive dunes which serve to protect the wildlife habitats behind them. This project proposes to alter these key foundational dunes which in turn will threaten the integrity of the overall ecosystem," said Richard Hilderman, Ph.D, Vice President of Sunset Beach Taxpayers Association. "Thousands of tourists come to Sunset Beach each year to enjoy the beauty of Bird Island and Sunset Beach which includes the dunes and wildlife."

The challenge was filed in the state Office of Administrative Hearings on behalf of the Sunset Beach Taxpayers Association and North Carolina Coastal Federation.

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