Groin Meeting a Real Reality Show
One of my favorite shows on television is NBC’s comedy “Parks and Recreation.” The show follows around a group of individuals who work for the parks and recreation department in a small town in Indiana. I should maybe be ashamed to admit this, but this show is pretty much my only experience with public meetings. I simply didn’t know what to expect at Thursday night’s public hearing regarding the Figure Eight Island Shoreline Management Project.
Obviously the zanier events in the TV show were unlikely to happen, but I thought at best there would be just a handful of people present. What I didn’t expect was a full audience of people ready to speak with passion and eloquence against placing a terminal groin at the north end of Figure Eight.
A wall of sandbags protect oceanfront houses near Rich Inlet on Figure Eight Island.
The island is private and the site of several hundred houses. It’s between two shifting inlets, and erosion has been a major problem for property owners. In particular, the movement of Rich Inlet on the north end has resulted in widespread erosion that has endangered about a dozen homes. In 2006, the Figure 8 Homeowner’s Association and various partners began assessing alternatives to protect the threatened houses. When the N.C. General Assembly voted last year amidst heavy controversy to allow the permitting of up to four terminal groins at inlets along the coast, the construction of a groin on the north end of Figure Eight quickly became the preferred alternative.
The U.S .Army Corps of Engineers recently released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the project alternatives. For the past couple of weeks, the other interns and I have sifted through the several-hundred-page document in an effort to assist the federation as it prepares to write formal comments.
This past Thursday, we were lucky enough to be invited out to the island to visit the area in question. We saw firsthand the houses and their sandbag barriers meant to block the encroaching waters. We also observed the threatened piping plover habitat, waded in the inlet and strolled across the spit located directly where the terminal groin will be located if approved.
That evening, we headed off to the hearing armed with a newfound appreciation for the threatened beach. At the meeting, representatives from the Corps and the engineering firm that wrote the study addressed the audience before opening the floor to public comments.
I think one long-time local resident and user of the beach summed up the sentiments of the crowd perfectly when she compared finding out about the groin project to finding out that a beloved friend had died. She went on to extoll the panel to not change the entire ecology of Rich Inlet just to protect a handful of houses.
Attending the public meeting was an immense learning opportunity. Not only did it remind me of the important role people can play in the public process, but it also taught me about the vital role that organizations like federation play in providing substantive, legally based comments and objections to projects that can harm our beloved environments.
-- Kelsey Ducklow