If you go to the beach in North Carolina this summer, you might see an unusual sight: Sandbags. Lots and lots of sandbags.
"New rules allowing the expanded use of sandbags to control erosion on North Carolina beaches are set to take effect March 1," the Island Free Press of Hatteras and Ocracoke reported in February (see: "Coastal Resources Commission approves new sandbag rules," by Mark Hibbs).
"Opponents say the changes could result in massive sandbag seawalls all along the oceanfront, blocking public access to beaches, harming wildlife habitats and exacerbating erosion problems elsewhere on the strand," the paper reported. "Those opposed also point to provisions they say could allow sandbags, which are allowed as temporary measures, to remain in place forever."
One prominent opponent of the measure is Duke University professor Orrin Pilkey. In an opinion piece in the Raleigh News and Observer, Pilkey condemned the idea in blunt terms (see: "North Carolina yet again shortsighted on sandbags," by Orrin H. Pilkey). Wrote Pilkey: "Sea walls, whether sandbags or concrete, placed on eroding coasts can be depended upon to destroy beaches. That’s because seawalls don’t address the myriad causes of erosion, so once a wall is put in, erosion continues and the beach narrows until it disappears. Time frames for such destruction range from two or three years to a decade. The only situation where seawalls don’t destroy beaches is the rare case of a shoreline that is not eroding. Encouraging the use of sandbags to protect buildings, even though the bags destroy beaches, is another example of the plummeting degradation of North Carolina’s coastal management program."