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Barrier Construction Issues

Adapted from "Shell Island : Now and Then" published in The Island Quarterly, Spring 1996. Written by Jay Johnson

During the past ten years, the Shell Island Resort has paid over $655,000 to the Accommodations Tax Fund. They contribute over $120,000 to the county, and over $45,000 to the Town of Wrightsville Beach each year in property taxes.

This area on which the Shell Island Resort was built was never in the original Berm and Dunes project of 1964 or any of the renourishment programs that followed.

In 1995, Shell Island Resort hired the consulting firm of CENTURY/Von Oesen to find a solution to the Mason's Inlet migration problem. The town of Wrightsville Beach contributed $3,000 to that study.

CENTURY/Von Oesen determined that an inlet migration barrier, a 450 foot-long steel underground structure with a concrete slab top, situated near the public walkway north of the resort, would provide an inexpensive ($250,000 - $350,000) and quick solution to the problem (90 days to complete). In September 1995, the North Carolina Division of Coastal Management stated that this barrier is a seawall, and denied their petition.

Col. Paul Denison, retired US Army Corps of Engineers, and consultant for CENTURY/Von Oesen presented the plan to North Carolina Resources Commission (CRC), and again their proposal was rejected.

"The barrier would not cause down drift nor prove detrimental to anyone", Col. Denison said. Denison is also a former member of the Coastal Resources Advisory Commission. He was disappointed at the CRC's lack of flexibility. Denison claims that the 15 member politically appointed commission is pragmatic and would not analyze all of the information, including socio-economic factors.

The CRC ruling is the final word on this matter unless Shell Island takes the State of North Carolina to court. Denison discourages this option as courts are hesitant to overrule a CRC decision. It would cost additional money and valuable time.

One solution to this problem would be to dredge the inlet to the intercoastal waterway, filling in the existing opening and moving it further north. This may be effective for 10 - 15 years or longer, but will cost about $2 million.

To dredge the inlet, permission from the Hutaff family must first be obtained. The Hutaffs own what is left of the northern end of Wrightsville Beach, as well as the southern end of Figure Eight Island.

On February 9, 1996, the Shell Island Homeowners Association decided to seek permission from the NC Division of Coastal Management to dredge a new channel seven to eight feet deep and between 1,000 - 1,500 feet north of the existing inlet to divert the flow of water. The proposed channel would be 1,500 feet long and 200 feet wide, with approximately 70,000 cubic yards of dredged fill to close the existing inlet. This proposal would be effective for three to five years.

The Shell Island Homeowners Association contacted the dredging company that would be working in nearby Brunswick County to provide services since they would be in the area. If action is taken quickly, this could defray up to $75,000 in the cost of moving the equipment from more distant points.

The Shell Island Homeowners Association asked the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners to defray 60 percent of the cost, about $150,000, from the county's accommodations tax/beach renourishment fund. The remaining costs would be raised through other sources including contributions from the Association.

The Wrightsville Beach Board of Alderman voted 4 to 1 to support Shell Island's plea.

Mayor Herb McKim, a local architect, voted against the plan, saying, according to Star News article, "it was a quick fix, and would only stall the inlet for two years". He believed the Shell Island Homeowners needed to come up with a more permanent solution.

William Cleary, a science professor at UNCW and former consultant for Figure Eight Island, recommended that, "Shell Island needs to clear out the access channel as well as the interior shoals, and remove all the sand." He further commented that unless a big storm creates a strong surge to seek a new path to the sea, Figure Eight Island should not be affected by the project. Cleary believes if the resort falls victim to the inlet, it will become a deterrent to the inlet's progression and slowly Mason's Inlet will become ineffective and close up. He further comments that some of the other properties south of the resort could be threatened too.

Col. Denison said that Shell Island's options are limited. Dredging would work, but it would take about a year. Sandbags are not particularly effective and can only be used on the property two years when a structure is threatened.

Unless an exception is granted, dredging is prohibited during the spring and summer to protect shrimp harvest and turtle nesting.

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