Editorial: Freeman Park: Public Trust Beach

By / Editorials / Tuesday, 20 February 2018 02:54

By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
Managing Editor

The dry sand beach is a public trust area. North Carolina is a common law state, and they observe the Public Trust Doctrine (dating back to Roman times) that ensures the public has a right to access the beach and the ocean. There is no such thing as a "private beach" in North Carolina.

The Town obtained permission from the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners in the early 2000's to manage the area as a park both within Town limits and outside of those limits in the unincorporated area of New Hanover County.

The Town has erected numerous lines of sand fencing over the years to protect the dunes and in turn has built up the current dune line which didn't previously exist since at least 1949.

They also added police patrols. Something that was practically non-existent prior to the park and they added life guard patrols, trash receptacles and portable toilets and other amenities. The Town pays for a Sea Turtle Patrol to locate endangered sea turtle nests throughout the nesting season. On one end of the spectrum, the area is better managed in terms of protecting the environment and the public. On the other end of the spectrum, the unfortunate side effect was that the park became a very well known destination and encouraged more and more people to visit each year during the busy summer months.

In an effort to curtail that increase of people and vehicle traffic, sometimes leading to as many as 875+ campsites, several years ago the Town established around 119 campsites (big reduction) that are available by reservation only. That helped reign in some of the perceived chaos in the park and greatly restricted camping.

I've been covering news about the North End (Freeman Park) since before it was established as a park. I remember times when you could actually see people squatting to use the bathroom in the dunes. People actually trying to jump the dunes in their 4x4's. People getting stabbed. One guy got beat so bad by some Marines one weekend night that he was blind. Fast forward to today, and the area is much improved by the Town's efforts to manage the area.

Sure, there are still issues with trash, but that's something the Town can certainly address with increased enforcement and additional personnel as well as requiring deposits from people reserving campsites who don't leave the site as clean as they found it when they arrived.

For informational purposes, North Carolina General Statute Chapter 160A-308. Regulation of dune buggies, grants the Town the permission to "regulate, restrict and prohibit" vehicles driving on the beach. The General Assembly granted that authority to all local governments on the coast.

The post and rope fence installed by property owner, Freeman Beach, LLC within the park last week was in violation of State Coastal Regulations as well as the Town's Code of Ordinances. State law does not permit obstruction of the "public trust" beach also commonly called the dry sand beach from the dunes to the ocean.
The park has reopened as of Tuesday afternoon and the Town notified the owners to remove the posts and rope or else they'll do it for them. (See this weeks report...).

Also, the NC Division of Coastal Management issued a notice of violation last week requiring those items to be removed from the beach. State law says sand fencing is limited to a maximum distance of 10 feet waterward of the tow of the frontal dune and can't impeded existing public access to the beach for recreational use or emergency vehicle access. Also, fencing can't restrict established common law and statutory right of access to the public trust lands and waters.

This story will continue to develop. Let's see where it goes next.

Author

Super User

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Carolina Beach North Carolina

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