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Kure Beach Council Discusses Proposed Federal Rules For Beach Use

Freeman Park on the North End of Carolina Beach. New rules proposed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service could have an impact on how the beach is used along much of the East Coast including Pleasure Island.

Managing Editor

KURE BEACH - Earlier this year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) proposed rules to designate many areas on the East Coast and Gulf Coast as "critical habitat" for endangered loggerhead sea turtles.
USFWS proposed board restrictions on what can be done in coastal regions where loggerheads nest covering what is allowed to be done on the beach and how beaches are managed.
The proposal could affect beach nourishment projects and activities on the beach such as driving and removing debris. Carolina Beach and Kure Beach are included in the designated area as critical habitat. Driving on the beach at Freeman Park is mentioned in the proposal.
During the Kure Beach Council's April 16, meeting Council member Emilie Swearingen explained, "Two dates you need to keep in mind, one is that any comments need to be received... by May 24 and request for any public hearings needs to be made by May 6. Otherwise they won't have any hearings."
She explained, "There are twelve categories that this could affect... these are very important." She explained that contrary to a recent report in the Star News, the rules have not yet been approved.
Swearingen explained, "What could happen is during the turtle season, April through October, the Feds could decide or make it extremely difficult on all beach communities to use any of the beach for recreational use including human presence, piers, recreational equipment, whatever. And beach driving which really affects Freeman Park and Fort Fisher the most. Both of them would have to close both of those parks."
She explained, "Beach renourishment, although in sections of this it did talk about that beach renourishment could be a good thing if you are bringing back the beach the turtles would have somewhere to lay their eggs."
She explained, "They would have to decide and the Corp of Engineers which already goes through a bunch of mess with them would have to go through even more stuff." She explained, "After a natural disaster, which means after a hurricane we would not be allowed to put sand back on the beach. Berm construction, that means also no plantings on the berm."
Swearingen said the local and National Home Builder's Associations are planning to write to elected leaders opposing the new rules and requesting a public hearing.
She explained, "Coastal development, it means no residential or commercial development in those areas that’s associated with construction repair or maintenance of upland structures, no storm water outfalls and no piers."
Swearingen said she agreed with rules governing decreasing lighting along the beachfront that can distract sea turtles during nesting season.
The American Shore and Beach Preservation Association (ASBPA) is speaking out on the issue. According to the ASBPA, "ASBPA and its members strongly support management approaches to protect the endangered loggerhead sea turtle. Nevertheless, we are apprehensive about the proposed Critical Habitat Designation, which includes 740 miles of coastline from North Carolina to Mississippi, and the methodology behind the designation."
In a statement issued April 6, ASBPA explained, "The proposed rule cites beach sand placement as one of twelve primary threats to loggerhead habitat, but relies upon data from 1999 to support that claim. The practice of managing beaches in order to protect environmental resources has advanced significantly since then. All U.S. Army Corps of Engineers beach renourishment projects must go through a thorough environmental review process before approval; and many state and local governments currently have management plans in place to protect wildlife and habitat. These mandatory plans specifically address nesting habitat for sea turtles."
ASBPA explained, "The proposed rule acknowledges, "a nourished beach that is designed and constructed to mimic a natural beach system may benefit sea turtles more than an eroding beach it replaces." However, it claims a larger proportion of turtles abandon attempts to nest on engineered beaches compared to natural beaches, due chiefly to physical differences between the two post-construction. Also cited by the rule as interfering with nesting are groins and jetties, coastal development, recreational beach use, predation, and the increased severity of tropical storms caused by global warming, among other elements."
The statement continues, "No one will argue against protecting loggerheads, but the broad designation advocated  by USFWS may not achieve much protection – and could bring with it a significant cost. Failure to adequately restore eroded coastlines would not only reduce the nesting habitat for turtles (who thrive on a wide natural beach), it could pose significant threats to coastal economies (who thrive on the visitors and residents healthy beaches bring), to recreation (since beaches are more highly used than all our public parks combined) and to private properties and public infrastructure (which are best protected by wide beaches and high dunes to keep storm waves away). This potentially pits turtles against people – and that’s just not necessary nor productive."
The ASBPA explains, "As the proposed rule states, well-nourished beaches can often be beneficial to providing nesting habitat for sea turtles. ASBPA points to years of turtle monitoring data from successful beach nourishment projects to document both the benefit of these projects to turtle habitat, and the evolutionary improvements in technology that have resolved any conflicts to further minimize potential dangers to sea turtles over time. ASBPA believes that management tools to accomplish loggerhead protections are best applied when all resources are balanced in the decision making process; and we urge the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service to
fully consider all of the environmental, recreational, and economic effects of the proposed rule. We are assessing this proposal and will provide our conclusions to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. We gladly offer to assist the Service, through the expertise of our scientist members, a partnering arrangement to address the needs of the multiple natural resources requiring management and wise stewardship."
ASBPA explains, " Remember, all U.S. Army Corps of Engineers beach renourishment projects face a thorough environmental review before approval, and many state and local governments currently have management plans in place to protect wildlife and habitat as well. It would be prudent to expand those efforts first, to ensure that turtle habitat is protected but not to the exclusion of other activities – and that the myriad threats to nesting are considered as part of the planning process for use and management, not after the fact."
A portion of the proposal from USFWS concerning Pleasure Island states, "The local municipality portion includes half of Freeman Park Recreation Area, which is managed by the Town of Carolina Beach. The County portion includes the other half of Freeman Park Recreation Area,
which is also managed by the Town of Carolina Beach under an interlocal agreement with New Hanover County. This unit was occupied at the time of listing and is currently occupied. This unit supports expansion of nesting from an adjacent unit (LOGG-T-NC-06) that has high-density nesting by loggerhead sea turtles in North Carolina. This unit contains all
of the Physical or Biological Features and Primary Constituent Elements. The PBFs in this unit may require special management considerations or protections to ameliorate the threats of recreational use, beach driving, predation, beach sand placement activities, in-water and shoreline alterations, climate change, beach erosion, artificial lighting, human-caused disasters, and response to disasters. At this time, we are not aware of any management plans that address this species in this area."
Swearingen said the proposed rules would prohibit using mechnical beach rakes to clean the beach and cleaning up debris after natural disasters.
She urged the Council to communicate with other area Towns and to request a public hearing with the USFWS.
She pointed out that Wrightsville Beach is not on the list of critical habitat areas.
She said, "Nowhere in here does it identify all of the work we are already doing with the turtle groups and all of the work we are already doing to prevent problems. The Council agreed to send a resolution requesting a public hearing on Pleasure Island with the USFWS.
To read the entire proposal from the USFWS visit