Friday, March 24, 2023

Carolina Beach requests permit for popular wheelchair-access beach mat to avoid possible state restrictions

The state told the nonprofit Ocean Cure to remove its 3,000-square-foot beach mat by September 8 or be subjected to “civil and/or criminal penalties.” (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Ocean Cure)

CAROLINA BEACH — The town of Carolina Beach has applied for a state CAMA permit to allow local nonprofit Ocean Cure to continue laying out a 3,000-square-foot beach access mat that has become a popular attraction for those visiting the beach in wheelchairs the past several years.

The town submitted the application last Tuesday, a week after members of the Coastal Resources Commission voted to advance a proposed amendment to the state’s beach accessway law that would only permit government entities to lay small mats — up to six feet wide and only six feet beyond the dune line — on public beach accessways.

RELATED: State advances new regulations that would restrict popular Carolina Beach wheelchair access mat

The proposed amendments to the law will now move to a public hearing, although one has not yet been scheduled, according to a spokesperson for the Division of Coastal Management (DCM).

Carolina Beach Town Manager Bruce Oakley said the town decided to file the permit so Ocean Cure could operate the mat as an agent of the town, still allowing it to operate and maintain the mat. According to Oakley, discussions with the DCM have been going smoothly.

“[DCM officials] have been real helpful and great to work with in advising us and answering our questions,” Oakley said. “I feel good — I’m not sure if we’ll get the permit — but I feel good we can put a good variance request in, if we don’t get the permit, that would get us strong consideration.”

But Ocean Cure President Kevin Murphy has described his own discussions with the state agency as both limited and frustrating. According to the DCM spokesperson, Christy Simmons, the DCM had “tried to work with Ocean Cure and the Town to find a long-term solution, hopefully by the start of 2021.”

Murphy denied this was the case, saying the town had forwarded emails from DCM in May 2019 and May 2020, but he first received direct communication from the state agency via a Notice of Regulatory Requirements on July 27, 2020. During these communications, according to Murphy, the DCM told the town a permit would most likely be denied.

RELATED: Inside state’s order to remove popular Carolina Beach wheelchair access mat

“I don’t think that’s ‘working’ when you say, ‘Apply for a permit but your permit’s going to be denied,” Murphy said.

He also claimed DCM Wilmington District Manager Tara MacPherson took photos of the mat immediately after a heavy rainstorm with the intention of showing it submerged in water during high tide, calling it a “bullshit move.” (He said the photos showed that the mat “did not move an inch” and remained above the tide line.)

During the September 9 Coastal Resources Commission meeting, DCM Director Braxton Davis said any CAMA permits for beach mats larger than the six feet wide and six feet beyond the dune line would likely be denied, but towns or other government entities could apply for a variance.

A public notice letter detailing the town’s application said members of the public can mail comments to Davis at 400 Commerce Avenue in Morehead City or email at prior to an October 5 deadline. Such comments will be considered in making the permit decision, according to the DCM.

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