The story behind a cease-and-desist issued on Surf City’s sand-haul project that eventually cost the town an additional $1.3 million, with only half the sand delivered before the sea turtle nesting season.
SURF CITY — A cease-and-desist for the town’s sand-haul dune project, issued by the state’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) in mid-March, was a result of one oceanfront homeowner’s complaint of pebbles found in the sand near his home, according to Town Manager Ashley Loftis.
The resident first complained of hauled-in sand covering his beach access steps, then of “rocks in the sand,” Loftis said. The complaints brought out Jason Dail of the Wilmington DEQ office.
Dail and beach engineer Chris Gibson — whose company T.I. Coastal is contracted by the city for the sand-haul project as well as a future long-term nourishment project — came to inspect.
“And they did find a few pebbles,” Loftis said. “When I say a few pebbles — there were 15 feet of sand that they dug and they found 18 pebbles. We got a cease-and-desist order because they found those 18 pebbles.”
Dail inspected the site with his superior at DEQ’s Division of Coastal Management and a representative from U.S. Fish & Wildlife, according to Loftis.
“They said, ‘Because you’re doing a berm we can make that regulation whatever we want. We can make it more restrictive if we feel we need to.’ And that’s what they did,” Loftis said.
Only .04 percent of sediment found
Loftis said the DEQ had inspected and approved the sand at a stockpile at S.T. Wooten — a concrete supplier just northwest of Wilmington near U.S. 421 — before the sand-hauling commenced and weeks before the March 21 cease-and-desist was issued.
Last week DEQ spokesperson Patricia Smith said a permit was issued in September for the project. Although the stockpile was approved, it was “with the condition that the material be sifted of all non-compatible material prior to deposition on the oceanfront.”
Loftis said the town spent an additional $1.3 million after the March 21 cease-and-desist on sifting more than 80,000 cubic yards of sand that had already been delivered. Out of that amount, she said only 30 cubic yards of sediment was discovered — or roughly .04 percent.
According to Loftis, Coastal Area Management Act (CAMA) regulations allowed up to 5 percent of sediment in the sand.
“We asked for a reprieve from that as we got further into the process, and once we saw there really wasn’t that much sediment coming out — based on how much it costs us to sift versus what we were pulling out of that sand — there wasn’t a good cost-benefit ratio,” Loftis said.
On Wednesday, Smith responded to Loftis’ account.
“While we may not agree with the town’s assessment of the amount of incompatible material, and the permit conditions clearly stated that the material used to construct the frontal dune must be free of debris, rocks or other non-beach compatible materials, the Division of Coastal Management is interested in further discussing the issue of rules governing dune construction and sand compatibility with town officials and the Coastal Resources Commission,” Smith said.
The Coastal Resources Commission was created when the N.C. General Assembly adopted CAMA in 1974, designating areas of environmental concern and adopting rules and policies for coastal development in those areas.
Nourishment work scheduled for fall
Out of the $5 million that Town Council had approved from the town’s beach nourishment fund for the project, Loftis said $1.3 million has been paid for sand sifting and $2.4 million for sand hauling.
Once beach restoration work is allowed to continue after the sea turtle nesting season ends on November 15, Loftis said they will not finish the remaining 70,000 cubic yards of sand-hauling but instead focus on a scheduled long-term beach nourishment project — what the $5 million was initially earmarked for.
“It doesn’t make sense to do the beach haul,” Loftis said. “If we’re going to spend the money, and that money is supposed to be going towards a private project anyways, it makes sense to go ahead and start a private project.”
According to Loftis, the town anticipates the private nourishment project to begin in the fall of 2019, after the end of the turtle season. She also said Gibson is currently applying for additional cost-share funding from the DEQ and Division of Water Resources (DWR) set aside for dredging projects that keep shallow-draft navigation channels safe and navigable.
Mark Darrough can be reached at Mark@Localvoicemedia.com