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Dredging Debris Could Be Placed On Shackleford Banks

 This week on the Down East Journal, groups are at odds over the plan to relocate dredging material from Beaufort Inlet to Shackleford Banks.  Would the move impact tourism or help preserve Shackleford’s shoreline from erosion?

To download the EIS, click here:  http://www.saw.usace.army.mil/Portals/59/docs/navigation/Dredging/Projects/Compressed_Report_for_Posting_to_Corps_Website.pdf

For more information on the plan, click here:  http://www.saw.usace.army.mil/Missions/Navigation/Dredging/MoreheadCityHarbor.aspx

The Beaufort Inlet serves as the only thoroughfare for container ships to bring nearly 2 million tons of cargo each year to the Morehead City port.  Keeping that channel open is vital to the region’s economic growth.   Every three years, the US Army Corp of Engineers dredge the Morehead City harbor to allow safe passage for the large vessels.    But now, proposed changes to where that dredging material may be deposited has Carteret County residents at odds.  Mayor of the town of Atlantic Beach Trace Cooper says placing sand on Shackleford Banks is unnecessary.

“we’ve seen no documented benefit for putting dredge material there, it’s a pristine national seashore, so we don’t know what the goal there is.”

As part a federal requirement, the US Army Corp of Engineers must have an Integrated Dredged Material Management Plan for the Morehead City harbor to assess how dredge material is disposed of.  When the Corp set out to draft their new 20 year plan, they sought the help of local, state and federal agencies for suggested options.  Chief of environmental resources for the Army Corp of Engineers Wilmington district Phil Payonk says the National Park Service, which is located at the Beaufort Inlet, was part of the planning process.

“it was at that time that they realized that the resources that they manage were being affected by the dredging.  And so they asked us to consider placement of material on Shackleford.  This had actually been asked earlier when the harbor was first deepened in the 70’s but at that time, they chose not to pursue that option.”

Dredging deposits have been placed along the Bogue Banks area for the past 30 years. Cape Lookout National Seashore Park Superintendent Pat Kenney says they would like to have the ability to place sand on Shackleford in the future.

  “and if we say no now to putting sand on Shackleford Banks, we would not see sand for the next 20 years. We have asked them to consider putting sand on Shackleford Banks and the decision on whether sand gets placed on Shackleford will be looked at based on the science of the day, and the needs of the park to ensure the preservation of the park”

The environmental impact statement for the Integrated Dredged Material Management Plan was released for public review and so far no decisions have been made.  The US Army Corp of Engineers is accepting comments on the plan through February 2nd.

“Following the public comment closing, we will make a decision on whether we will move forward with accepting sand from the Corp, or not accepting sand.  Or not being in the cue to accept sand is a better way to say it.”

A public information session was held this Wednesday at the Duke Marine Lab on Pivers Island.  Mayor of the town of Atlantic Beach and spokesperson for Carteret Coalition to Protect our Shores Trace Cooper asked for the meeting to be held so Carteret County residents could hear the details of the plan and voice their concerns.  However, he says the US Army Corp of Engineers are only accepting written comments.

“We requested a public hearing so we can give our input on how our tax dollars are spent and the federal government is basically saying we’re not going to let you speak.  That’s just unheard of.”

Chief of environmental resources for the Army Corp of Engineers Wilmington district Phil Payonk says submitting a written statement is the best way to comment on the plan.

“We want to make sure we hear the public and hear them accurately and hear them correctly. We can best do that if they submit their comments in writing.  And once they do that, then that becomes a part of our administrative records and we are required under the National Environmental Policy Act to respond to those comments and to consider those comments in our final EIS which will be prepared later.”

Trace Cooper is among many Carteret County officials and citizens who believe dredging operations on Shackleford Banks could negatively affect the pristine coastline and wildlife.

“It’s a pretty intense construction process. There are large, high volume pipes, lots of heavy duty earth moving equipment, bulldozers and backhoes and track hoes and things.  It’s not a very sensitive operation. And I know that the park service doesn’t allow dogs for example to run off their leash because of concerns for wildlife.  I don’t see how they think bulldozers and gigantic iron pipes are a good idea.”

Navigation project manager for the Army Corp of Engineers Wilmington district Bob Keistler disagrees, saying the permitting process before an area can receive dredging material ensures minimum impact to the environment.

IMPACT “If the park service accepts material in the future, it would be placed seaward of the dune system and ocean and it’s not going to cover any vegetation.  So I think it will be minimal impact to the environment.  As far as the horses and other wildlife on the island, it would have minimal or no impact I would say.”

Shackleford Banks is home to over 110 wild horses, which is the oldest documented horse population in North America.  Carteret Coalition to Protect our Shores spokesperson Trace Cooper believes the plan would have a negative effect on tourism, wildlife, fishing and the wilderness character of this protected area. 

“Another concern with this plan is that it may affect the surf break at Shackleford which, it doesn’t happen much but when it does it’s a legendary spot on the east coast. So as Mayor of Atlantic Beach, I’m obviously concerned with sand going to Bogue Banks but as someone who grew up going to Shackleford I want to make sure it remains a pristine environment.”

According to Park Superintendent Pat Kenney, there are two potential sites on Shackleford Banks that would benefit from the placement of dredging material.  One of those sites is directly on the beach on the western end of the island and the other is in a near shore area in waters less than 25 feet in depth.  While there is controversy surrounding the placement of dredging debris, Navigation project manager Bob Keislter says beach nourishment isn’t the aim of the dredging project.

“From our point of view, we’re disposing of beach quality sand and any incidental benefits you may get from doing the beaches is just that, an incidental benefit.  And I do understand, folks have for 100 years the federal government has been maintaining Morehead City harbor and material has been dredged and placed on Fort Macon and Atlantic Beach and even further, and almost every case it comes at a federal cost so I do understand it’s something that folks are used to. But just need to remember that the purpose of the dredging project is to maintain the navigation channel to provide safe passage for ships coming in and out of port.”

The public comment period started December 6th and will run until February 3rd.  Written comments can be submitted through the mail or an email address available on Carteret County’s website and the US Army Corp of Engineer’s Wilmington District website.   After the final Environmental Impact Statement is released, and a record of decision document will have to be signed by the US Army Corp of Engineers and the National Park Service.   The Morehead City Harbor Integrated Dredged Material Management Plan is expected to be completed in Spring of 2015.   To download the 300 page draft environmental impact statement and submit comments to the US Army Corp of Engineers plan, visit our website, publicradioeast.org and click on this story.

Jared Brumbaugh is the Assistant General Manager for Public Radio East. An Eastern North Carolina native, Jared began his professional public radio career at Public Radio East while he was a student at Craven Community College earning his degree in Electronics Engineering Technology. During his 15+ years at Public Radio East, he has served as an award-winning journalist, producer, and on-air host. When not at the station, Jared enjoys hiking, traveling, and honing his culinary skills.