A new preliminary design for Figure Eight Island’s proposed terminal groin has environmental advocates wondering what impacts the change could have on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ ongoing evaluation of the plan.
Mickey Sugg, the ACE project manager for the proposed structure, said in a telephone interview on Aug. 13 it would likely not result in the environmental review process being started over.
“They’re just fine-tuning what their project is, what their preferred location is,” Sugg said. “We wouldn’t look at restarting anything. If they change the location, if there are differences in the impacts from the current location, they’ll be addressed in the final Environmental Impact Statement.”
Currently, the corps is evaluating the impacts of the proposed terminal groin, along with the other alternatives listed in the draft impact statement that was submitted to it last year by the Figure Eight Island Homeowners Association. That process will culminate in the final impact statement, after which the homeowners can apply for their construction permit to implement their preferred alternative.
“Our role in this is we weigh the benefits and the detriments of the project,” Sugg said. “If there are more detriments than benefits to the public, then we may look to deny the permit request. … We may decide to issue a permit with special conditions that handle or address particular concerns that have been raised over time.”
Mike Giles is a coastal advocate with the N.C. Coastal Federation, an environmental organization that obtained the preliminary document showing the new terminal groin option. He is concerned that the Figure Eight Homeowners Association will attempt to change the application without restarting the permitting process.
“If this is what they’re going to go with, they need to start over,” Giles said. “They’re trying to avoid having to get permission from private land owners to cross their property, but I think it still does. They would have to do remodeling; it’s a different alignment, different impacts on the water, different impacts on the beach [and] on wave refraction.”
Giles also voiced objections over the corps’ choice of engineering contractors. Under the National Environmental Protection Act, the corps is tasked with hiring an environmental consultant to analyze the impacts of a proposed project during the environmental review process. Tom Jarrett of Coastal Planning and Engineering is the lead consultant for both the homeowners and the corps, Giles said.
“The homeowners association, as the applicant, can hire anybody they want to,” Giles said. “Then the corps interviews businesses to do a third-party review, where it’s supposed to provide an unbiased review of the project. And they approved the same [engineer] from Figure Eight and the same one for Ocean Isle.”
At stake is approximately $1.2 billion in assessed property values on Figure Eight Island, the draft environmental impact statement reports. Massive sandbags and lines of sand fences litter the beach in front of homes on the barrier island’s north end, evidence of a shorefront on the move.
David Kellum, Figure Eight Island Homeowners Association administrator, said on Aug. 13 the island has spent years developing a “long-term management plan” that would also protect its infrastructure and natural resources. The reason for the second option, he explained, is twofold.
“We wanted to reduce any impact to coastal wetlands, and that’s one of the things that the corps and the state pointed out so we looked at moving it,” he said, referring to the patch of wetlands on the island’s north end. “And between our meetings with homeowners up there the homeowners asked us to look at moving it slightly further north.”
Owing to the technical challenges of determining exact boundary lines for coastal property, Kellum added the property rights issue raised by those homeowners is “very gray.”