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SANDBAGS exposed on As sast sad cfHdden Beech this winter (abcve) ars pcrtiaUy cowreu now by
dredge sand from a pumping project. The bags aren t supposed to extend below the mean high water
Coastal Pane! Takes New
Look At Sandbag Rules
BY SUSAN USHER
In the late 1980s the state Depart
ment of Transportation piled sand
bags parallel to Ocean Boulevard at
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uiv com cuu ui iiuiucu uvawii as a
temporary erosion control structure
io piuicci the roadbed.
More iiutn five years later, rem
nants of those sandbags or their
placements are siiii piled aiong the
shore alongside concrete and steel
pilings from the old Holden Beach
Bridge; the roadway the structure
was intended to protect has disap
peared. The nearest house is consid
ered "imminently threatened" by
erosion: a neighboring cottage has
already been removed.
Dredge spoil sand has been
pumped on to the east end of the
beach in another erosion control ef
fort, partially covering what's left of
The situation is repeated along the
North Carolina oceanfront for the
equivalent of two continuous miles.
There arc 3,000 feet of bags in use
on Pender, New Hanover and Bruns
wick County beaches aione, protect
ing 80 homes, at least one condo
minium complex and an occasional
stretch of street, like Ocean Boule
Some projects have been in place
eight years. Just how long is "tem
Should sandbags be allowed to
protect any structure or only habit
able structures such as homes, busi
nesses or motels? What about a
swimming pool, septic tank or park
Those are just a few of the sticky
questions coastal management offi
cials aw pondering 25 they s
fresh look at the use of coastal sand
bagging to provide temporary pro
tection of structures threatened by
Approved as policy in 1985, the
same year the Coastal Resources
Commission banned hardening of
the beach through devices such as
sea walls and groins, sandbagging
was intended to give property own
ers : rnssns of tcsspcrsrily protect
ing their property while making
arrangements to move a threatened
or damaged structure.
While there is evidence of some
abuse, much of the agency's con
cems stem from inconsistent inter
pretation of rules. The commission
is looking for ways to close those
loopholes while still providing for
"It's just an enforcement night
mare," Assisting Director of Per
mitting Preston Pate toid members
of the commission recently. "We
feel the ruies are ambiguous, which
adds to the enforcement difficulty."
A typical sandbag is about the
size of a daybed, weighs between
one ton and two tons when full and
costs between $100 and $120.
Marine contractors pump ocean wa
ter and sand into the webbed bsgs.
The water runs out of small pores,
leaving behind sand. The most
durable bags last three to seven
years, but may deteriorate sooner
uiuici heavy storm conditious or
when left uncovered in sunlight or
abused by vandals.
Ar (V?an Isle Bfsch, v^htrt son
sandbag projects date from Hurr
icane Hugo in 1989, "for the most
part sandbags have been ?*ed the
way they should be," as temporary
measures, says Building Inspector
Druied Robcrson. "I can only think
of one or two instances where the
sandbags are exposed."
In at least one instance sand has
accreted on the bags and grass is
growing on the resulting dune, in
other situations the houses were re
located at a later time.
Robcrson only issued two emer
gency permits for sandbagging after
the March 13, 1993, storm.
He said homeowners have had
difficulty getting the permission of
adjacent property owners ? required
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u miv vaiviiu iu OT1U141I !?> ICC!
of the adjacent property line.
"If you have a 36-foot house on a
50-foot wide lot, you have a prob
lem." he said.
Some adjacent property owners
are hesitant to grant permission for a
neighbor's sandbagging project be
cause they've learned what the state
coastal management office now
knows. When left indefinitely, sand
bwgS ggm* ()f thg cttmo pr?K
lems as more permanent efforts to
harden the shoreline such as sea
walls and groins, said Pate. Al
though thev may protect the imme
diate property, they may worsen era
sion damage to adjacent properties.
"It tends to domino,'* he said.
"Adjacent property owners either
see the benefit, cr fee! the need to
piw?vw? invii unit piwpwuj.
"Once sandbags arc in place it is
very difficult to get them removed,
especially complete removal."
Another part of the reason: Once
a cottage is relocated or torn down,
the lot that remains is often too
small to build on again. Property
owners want to hold on to their in
vestment as long as they can.
For instance, sandbags are sup
posed to be buried, covered with
sand like a ihme. If uncovered far
six months, they arc supposed to be
removed. But who keeps tabs?
Another agency concern is clean
up of the beach when bags begin to
age or are damaged and shred iaio
litter-size pieces. Unlabeled, they
cannot be traced back to their own
en, who under commission rules are
supposedly responsible for bag
clean-up and removal.
Bags aren't to be iett ca the
beach, but removed once the erosion
reverses, the threatened structure is
moved or an alternate erosion man
agement method is adopted.
Part of the problem: There aren't
many alternatives available, espe
cially to individual property owners.
Pushing sand up on the beach has
proved ineffective and bringing in
sand from outside is an an expensive
Ocean Isie Beach, said Roberson,
has been working with the U.S.
Army Corps of Engineers for sever
al years in an effort to begin a town
iiuuiagcu ucmi piujcu limiUi to
those at Carolina and Wrightsville
Beaches. Depending on how much
sand is available, the town will de
termine an erosion limit line, then
"Once you do it, it becomes a
continuing project and it's expen
sive." said Robeson, "but you're not
going to have additional erosion."
Such projects are economically
feasible only with state and federal
support. "If they don't get involved
in it," cautioned Roberson, "the only
people who are going to be able to
get to the seashore are the verv
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