Beach officials ponder loggerhead critical habitat’s economic impacts

by Kelly Corbett
Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Staff photo by Allison Potter 

A mix of sand and water dredged from Masonboro Inlet blasts out of a pipe onto Wrightsville Beach on Feb. 23, 2010. Beach town officials are concerned that designating portions of the North Carolina coast as loggerhead critical habitats will impact future beach renourishment projects.

Potential beach renourishment project impacts are the main economic concerns about designating portions of the North Carolina coast as loggerhead critical habitats.

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service held two public meetings in the state last week in New Hanover and Carteret counties, seeking additional public input about the proposal to designate 739 shoreline miles in six states for the loggerhead Northwest Atlantic population.

Although Wrightsville Beach is not included in the current designation area, the majority of the 16 speakers during Wilmington’s Aug. 7 public hearing were elected beach town officials.

While no Wrightsville Beach officials were present during the hearing, Mayor David Cignotti said on Monday, Aug. 12 he thinks there are a lot of unanswered questions about how the designation could affect things like beach renourishment.

“I also think that we’ve done a pretty good job of working beach nourishment to where it does not negatively affect the turtle season,” he said. “… I think that the vast majority of people understand that there needs to be balance between both of those: the economic development and the preservation of such wildlife as sea turtles.”

Several other officials said local beach sea turtle project volunteers are already doing a great job protecting loggerhead habitats and pointed out that North Carolina has a nesting density of 3.25 nests per mile compared to a 24 to 120 nest per mile range in Georgia, South Carolina and Florida.

Before the hearing, Pete Benjamin, Fish and Wildlife Service ecological services supervisor, said a lot of concerns are about what the effects will be on beach access, beach driving and other recreational uses.

“What we’ve been trying to clarify is that it probably won’t affect those at all, because critical habitat only comes into play when there’s a federal nexus, some other action that federal government is carrying out or permitting or funding,” Benjamin said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service will have to look at impacts on beach renourishment projects during additional analysis, he added.

Topsail Beach Commissioner Grier Fleischhauer disagreed. He said there would be increased costs and projects would be delayed.

“The key word is unlikely,” he said. “… I don’t see where anything is improving or changing. … Why now? We’re doing a good job. The turtles are recovering.”

Layton Bedsole, county shore protection coordinator, broke down the $1.2 million estimated cost to federal and state agencies from 2014 to 2024 to an annual estimate.

“I manage these projects for a living,” Bedsole said. “I know what the market costs are, your numbers, $120,000 a year, the [U.S. Army Corps of Engineers] numbers, tens of millions of dollars a year. Folks, we’re not on the same page.”

Speaking in favor, Jody Smith, Carolina Beach town council member and president of Pleasure Island Sea Turtle Project, said she could argue sea turtles bring people to local beaches.

“I think this is a great opportunity to educate and just raise awareness of sea turtles,” Smith said. “… They were there first, and we’re just stewards in trying to protect them.”

Ending the hearing, Nancy Busovne, who holds the Carolina Beach turtle permit and is also a Carolina Beach rental agency broker, said many tourists love the turtles and will even plan vacations around hatching nests.

A final ruling is projected for July 2014.


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