Sunday, March 26, 2023

Surf City beach restoration halted until fall, extension into sea turtle nesting season denied

A sand-hauler drives on the Surf City beach in March. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Vicki Bozzola)
A sand-hauler drives on the Surf City beach in March. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Vicki Bozzola)

The town received a stop-work order from the NC Division of Coastal Management in March, but the agency says it made clear its requirements on sand quality prior to the start of the project.

SURF CITY — The town’s attempt to rebuild parts of the beach dune system heavily damaged by Hurricane Florence will have to wait until November.

After missing its deadline to complete a $5-million sand-haul project before the start of sea turtle nesting season earlier in the week, the Town of Surf City’s attempt to receive an extension has been denied.

RELATED: Surf City acknowledges recent beach push exposes temporary dunes to erosion

A stop-work order was first issued by the N.C. Division of Coastal Management on March 21 because of rocks and other debris discovered in imported sand, according to the division’s spokesperson Patricia Smith. She said the standard date for resuming beach restoration work is November 15.

Town pushes for extension

The town had requested an extension to resume work past May 1. In response, the director of the Division of Coastal Management said he would consult with Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Michael Regan, according to Smith. Such discussions are irrelevant now, she said, because “evidence of sea turtles has already been found.”

“My understanding is that town officials, in a phone call, have agreed that an extension can’t happen now because there has been evidence that sea turtles have been found,” Smith said.

Surf City Mayor Doug Medlin and Town Manager Ashley Loftis could not be reached in time for publication. On Wednesday, the town posted on social media that the project was slowed by the sand-sifting requirements imposed by the state.

“The sand that was being hauled in was approved by CAMA prior to starting on March 11,” according to a statement posted Wednesday to the town’s Facebook page. “After an inspection, we were told on March 21 that we now had to sift the sand prior to placing on the beach. Sifting the sand slowed the project down in a way that we had not anticipated prior to starting.”

The Coastal Area Management Act (CAMA), created in 1974 to protect the state’s coast, includes certain environmental regulations enforced by the Division of Coastal Management.

According to Smith, a permit was issued in September for the project and clearly stated that any material used to construct the frontal dune must be free of debris, rocks, or other non-beach compatible materials. She said the stockpile site at S.T. Wooten, a concrete supplier just northwest of Wilmington near U.S. 421, “was approved with the condition that the material be sifted of all non-compatible material prior to deposition on the oceanfront.”

“I guess the town is saying that’s what slowed them down,” Smith said. “The permit itself actually said that if any material was used to reconstruct the frontal dune, that it should be free of debris of rocks or other non-compatible material.”

‘It’s not renourishment, it’s recovery’

According to Surf City Councilmember Teresa Batts, who also sits on the Topsail Shoreline Protection Commission, the town would need approximately three additional weeks to finish the project. She said all areas north of the Surf City Pier, as well as an area at the southern end of the town, have been completed.

She also said various town officials, engineers, and local sea turtle conservationist Jean Beasley were in support of an extension. Beasley, she said, wanted dune restoration work completed in order to provide a healthy habitat for the turtles.

“We want a place for the turtles to inhabit. We want a place that ensures the health, safety, and welfare of our citizens,” Batts said.

Plans were drawn up to avoid any nightly movement of sand and to monitor and map out turtle nest locations for dump trucks to avoid, according to Batts. 

Ultimately, Batts believed CAMA regulations should be more flexible as the town continues to rebuild after Hurricane Florence.

“We had hoped they would bend a little bit because it’s not renourishment, it’s recovery,” Batts said.

As for residents’ concerns that the project should have been completed well before May 1 — nearly eight months after Florence heavily damaged the beaches of Topsail Island — the town’s social media post outlined factors that slowed restoration work.

“After the storm, the sand had to be removed from the streets, sifted and put back on the beach,” an official posted to the town’s Facebook page. “The contracted company, DRC, had to pick up all the vegetative and demolition debris from the island streets. Prior to starting on the restoration of the dunes, we needed to pick up debris from the oceanfront, which was completed around the holidays.”

Further delays came in January, according to the post, as the town awaited FEMA’s commitment to help reimburse the project’s costs and — once the decision was made to move forward — complete a formal bidding process.

Mark Darrough can be reached at

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