Oil and gas spills in North Sea every week

north sea rig
Claymore Platform in the North Sea. Photo source: ©© Paul Thomas


According to an investigative report from the british newspaper The Guardian, serious spills of oil and gas from North Sea platforms are occurring at the rate of one a week, undermining oil companies’ claims to be doing everything possible to improve the safety of rigs…

Read Original Article, Guardian UK

Oil spills by North Sea rigs: which is the worst?

Published Listing, Guardian

Sea turtle Nesting Season On Gulf of Mexico Beaches: Worries Remain

sea turtle egg
“El nacimiento.” A sea turtle egg. Photo source: ©©Emmanuel Frezzotti

Sea turtle nesting season is underway on Gulf of Mexico beaches, and observers say activity seems normal. But these aren’t the same animals that nested during last year’s Gulf oil spill, and scientists are concerned about a continued rise in turtle deaths.

WATCH: Gulf Turtle Nests Abound, But Worries Remain

National Geographic

Sea Turtle Deaths Up Along Gulf Shores, Joining Dolphins’Trend

BP Oil Linked To Dolphins’Death

Sea turtle Egg Poaching legalized In Costa Rica: The Debate, Coastal Care

Task force: Restoring sediment key to Gulf revival

usgs sediment sampling
U.S. Geological Survey scientists collected environmental data and samples in coastal areas affected by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Samples of water, sediments, benthic invertebrates, and microorganisms were collected at beach, barrier islands, and wetland environments of the Gulf of Mexico coastal states before and after petroleum-associated product arrived on shore.
Photo source: ©© Lori Lewis (USGS)


Restoring the flow of sediment to Gulf Coast wetlands and barrier islands that are key wildlife habitats and provide crucial protection from storms is one of the biggest challenges officials face as they seek to restore a region whose long-time ecological problems came into focus after last year’s disastrous oil spill…

usgs fatbag oil pollution
Although oil and water do not normally mix, oil contaminants in waterways can be measured using a special membrane nicknamed a “fatbag.” The fatbags absorb many fat-soluble chemicals from the water at a known rate, so they can be used to estimate the concentration of such chemicals.Caption and photo source: U.S. Geological Survey, Mike Randall ©© Mike Randall

Read Full Article, AP

Texas wetland restoration could be model for Gulf

Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force
The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force was created by President Obama through an Executive Order on October 5, 2010, and is the result of a recommendation on long term recovery following the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.

About the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, EPA

Red Knots Shorebirds and Horseshoe Crabs Knotted Together

redknots shorebirds
Red knots, an at-risk shorebird, at Delaware Bay. Red knots like to feed on horseshoe crab eggs to refuel after their marathon migrations of some 10,000 miles. Declines of horseshoe crabs and red knots seem to be related. Caption and photo source: Greg Breese, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / USGS

By The Department of the Interior / USGS

Speculation that the welfare of a small, at-risk shorebird is directly tied to horseshoe crab populations is in part supported by new scientific research, according to a U.S. Geological Survey- led study published in Ecosphere, a journal of the Ecological Society of America.

Population health of the red knot, a shorebird species whose population has plummeted over the last 15 years, has been directly tied to the number of egg-laying horseshoe crabs in Delaware Bay, between Delaware and New Jersey, during the red knot’s northward migration each spring.

“This is one of the first studies to scientifically support the ecological links between these two species,” said Conor McGowan, a USGS scientist and the lead author of the study.

The research bolsters the hypothesis that managing horseshoe crab populations and their harvest may help conserve red knots. Most horseshoe crab harvest today comes from the fishing industry, which uses the crab as bait, and the pharmaceutical industry, which collects their blood for its clotting properties.

The study, which looked at data from more than 16,000 birds over a 12-year period, revealed that the chance of a red knot gaining significant weight after arriving at Delaware Bay is directly related to the estimated number of female horseshoe crabs that spawned during the shorebird stopover period each spring. Birds that do not gain enough weight tend to have a lower chance of surviving the rest of the year, and in some years the difference between heavy and light bird survival can be large.

“Our research strongly suggests that the timing of horseshoe crab spawning, not simply crab abundance, is important to red knot refueling during their stops in Delaware Bay,” McGowan added.

Horseshoe crab spawning is driven not only by tides and lunar cycles, but also by water temperatures and wave-generating storms. This means that if water temperatures or storm frequency in the mid-Atlantic region change significantly because of climate change, the timing of egg spawning would likely also change and become mismatched with when red knots and other shorebirds arrive to feed on the nutrient-rich eggs. Shorebirds depend primarily on celestial cues for when to migrate and are not as susceptible to environmental variation as horseshoe crabs, making a mismatch more possible.

“If the timing of migration and the availability of food resources, in this case, horseshoe crab eggs, do not coincide, migrating shorebirds, such as the red knot, that come to Delaware Bay each spring, could be adversely affected, both individually and as a population,” McGowan said.

The research also found evidence that the annual survival of these birds is not only partly dependent on their body mass when they leave Delaware Bay but is also strongly related to snow conditions when the birds reach their arctic breeding grounds.

“We were surprised to find that snow depth in the arctic breeding grounds increases the chances of survival for both heavy and light birds,” said McGowan. Some possible explanations are that birds may skip breeding in years with heavy snow and thus have higher chances of survival, or heavier snow may mean more food availability when the snow melts. But, McGowan noted, the cause of this unexpected result needs to be directly studied through further research.

The study has important management implications for both species. “These results indicate that managing horseshoe crab resources in the Delaware Bay has the potential to improve red knot population status,” McGowan said. McGowan and other USGS scientists have been working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state fish and wildlife agencies, and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to develop a horseshoe crab harvest adaptive management plan that incorporates the results of this survival analysis study.

The research, Demographic consequences of migratory stopover: linking red knot survival to horseshoe crab spawning abundance, was authored by Conor McGowan (USGS), James Hines (USGS), James Nichols (USGS), James Lyons (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) and others. It was published in this month’s edition of Ecosphere, a new open-access journal of the Ecological Society of America.

Red Knots Forage for Horseshoe Crab Eggs at Delaware Bay. Red knots forage for horseshoe crab eggs and other invertebrates on the beaches of Delaware Bay. The bird in the center has an orange leg flag indicating it was captured and flagged in the past in Argentina. Photo source: Conor McGowan / USGS

Background on Horseshoe Crabs

Horseshoe crabs are not crabs at all, in fact, they are more closely related to spiders, ticks and scorpions. While historically horseshoe crabs have been used in fertilizer, most horseshoe crab harvest today comes from the fishing industry, which uses the crab as bait, and the pharmaceutical industry, which collects their blood for its clotting properties. While the crabs are returned after their blood is taken, the estimated mortality rate for bled horseshoe crabs can be as high as 30 percent.

Horseshoe crab eggs are an important source of food for millions of migrating shorebirds. This is particularly true for the red knot, an at-risk shorebird that uses horseshoe crab eggs at Delaware Bay to refuel during its marathon migration of some 10,000 miles. Since the late 1990s, both horseshoe crabs and red knot populations in the Delaware Bay area have declined, although census numbers for horseshoe crabs have increased incrementally recently. Atlantic loggerhead sea turtles, which used to feed mainly on adult horseshoe crabs and blue crabs in Chesapeake Bay, already have been forced to find other less suitable sources of food, perhaps contributing to declines in Virginia’s sea turtle abundance.

Original Article

Japan groups alarmed by radioactive soil

japan radioactivity
Iitate, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, 27 March 2011 – Greenpeace radiation safety experts Jan Van de Putte and Jacob Namminga monitor contamination levels at Iitate village, 40km northwest of the crisis-stricken Fukushima/Daiichi nuclear plant, and 20km beyond the official evacuation zone. Radiation levels found by the Greenpeace monitoring team are far above internationally recommended limits – people living here would receive the yearly maximum dose of radioactivity within a few days, yet have not yet been evacuated. The Greenpeace team is continuing to monitor locations around the Fukushima evacuation area in order to assess the true extent of radiation risks to the local population.Captions and photograph: ©© Christian Åslund / Greenpeace


Soil radiation in a city 60 kilometres (40 miles) from Japan’s stricken nuclear plant is above levels that prompted resettlement after the Chernobyl disaster, citizens’ groups said Tuesday.

The coastal Fukushima Daiichi plant has been spewing radiation since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami knocked out its cooling systems….

Read Full Article, AFP

Report From Japan: No News is Good News?

Fukushima Citizen Remain Highly Exposed To Radiations, Greenpeace Reports

Fukushima Parents Protest Over New Permissible Radiation Levels

Mass tourism threatening Venice lagoon

venice lagoon
Venice, view from Rialto bridge. The Venice lagoon is an inlet of the Adriatic Sea, with access to sea waters largely restricted by a series of sand bars at the lagoon’s entrance. Photo source: ©©Dmitriy Moiseyev


An Italian environmental group warned that mass tourism is slowly eroding the Venice lagoon, which it said is also threatened by major real estate development and an inadequate transport network…

“Venice is really under threat. We must find a balance between immediate needs and the future to ensure sustainable development,” …

Piazza San Marco. Photo source: ©©Dmitriy Moiseyev

Read Full Article, AFP

The 54th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale
The Venice Biennale, arguably the most prestigious contemporary arts festival in the world, consists of a variety of pavilions scattered around the Italian city. Painting, sculpture, architecture and more are all on display, and the exhibition is open from 4th June to 27th November 2011. This year, 88 participating countries contribute, attracting attention to a city in peril, and many visitors…

Tribute to a city in Peril: The Venice Biennale, In pictures, Guardian UK

The Venice Biennale: list of countries-artworks

ombrelle jaune
Photo source: ©©Dmitriy Moiseyev

Sandbagged: The Undoing of a Quarter Century of North Carolina Coastal Conservation

seagull row gl1
Seagull Row. Beach Homes on Seagull Drive in South Nags Head NC on a calm day in March 2011. Caption and photograph by ©Gary Lazorick

By Gary Lazorick

“Men cannot build houses upon sand and expect to see them stand now anymore than they could in the olden times…”
Raleigh Observer, 1879.

After “Nor-Ida” hit the coast last fall, septic tanks lined South Nags Head’s Sea Gull Lane like tombs in a New Orleans cemetery. Tombs ready to receive the remains of the damaged buildings standing above them after another pounding by storm-driven surf.

Evidence of the power of the sea was all around. Fractured beams, abandoned stairs, tangled wires and gaping PVC pipes jutted beneath each home. Anchor pilings—buttressed by sloppy piles of enormous sandbags—supported each building.

And the sandbag piles, which were originally placed like fortress walls for temporary protection, remain as a disheveled reminder that little can withstand the inevitable power of the sea.

But many developers, homeowners, and local politicians refuse to believe the evidence that the ocean’s transformation of the shore is inevitable. From their perspective, placement of structures on a piece of land fundamentally changes eternal natural laws: sand, and barrier islands, at the coast must move.

For more than a quarter century, North Carolina’s coastal policy has mostly favored the protection of such natural processes over economic interests and investments. That protection, in the form of a comprehensive ban on man-made structures like seawalls, jetties and breakwaters, has been at odds with development interests all along.

Those interests have fought the restrictions of the ban since its inception. Their efforts have resulted in millions of dollars in costs, endless hearings to discuss solutions to the problem and legislative exceptions to the hardened-structure ban.

This spring, development interests and their supporters believed they could tip the balance and place investment above nature in coastal policy. And, as of April 2011, it appears they have.

The North Carolina General Assembly has passed a bill that will forever alter the state’s long-standing ban on construction of hardened erosion control structures. The ban, says East Carolina University coastal geologist Stan Riggs, has been “the envy of coastal scientists and environmentalists nationwide.”

The bill, if signed by Governor Bev Perdue, will authorize the construction of four permanent jetty-like “terminal groins” at coastal inlets, exactly the type of man-made coastal armoring the hardened-structure ban prevented for over twenty-five years.

The bill is the culmination of the ongoing legal and political efforts by monied development interests to get around or exploit weaknesses within the ban, while at the same time exploiting the cooperative sensibilities of the people assigned to apply it.

The gradual efforts of those opposing the ban have had lingering unintended or unforeseen consequences that continue long after seemingly little steps were made. Understanding the true environmental cost of these little steps helps explain why the bill being considered will be, according to Riggs, “the end of the barrier islands” as we know them.

At Stake? Our Beach

Riggs calls the Outer Banks of North Carolina “the highest energy natural zone in the world.” His assertion seems overstated, but he makes a compelling case.

He explains that if you take the relentless wave energy on the coast and add the force of “roughly 35 winter ‘nor-easters’ and 5 to 10 tropical storms” per year, you get a picture of a coastline under siege. In addition, the sea level has been rising for 19,000 years, adding pressure to the system.

That pressure results in the redistribution of sand until a balance is reached. The balance is maintained by barrier islands, like North Carolina’s Outer Banks, through movement or migration towards the mainland. In fact, North Carolina’s barrier islands have migrated more than 60 miles in the last 15,000 years.

Most of us understand the basics of this interplay but misunderstand the speed with which the changes can occur. Our sense of time—a human lifetime is a tiny fraction of the age of the earth—makes it hard to believe the land of the Outer Banks may be ocean in our lifetime. Add the economic distortions of real estate and property rights and the hard to believe is transformed into a belief that coastal erosion can be overcome.

Developers insist that property, certified by deed, deserves to be protected. Structure owners want to enjoy and maintain their investment. Both believe that it makes sense to control erosion by engineering structures designed to protect their property.

But controlling erosion damages beaches. Coastal scientists say the beaches are damaged by structures built near them and endangered by any type of erosion-control structure that interrupts the processes that created them. To scientists, any interruption to natural processes is ultimately harmful.

But too much development has occurred. Processes have already been interrupted. The scientists agree that if action must be taken to counteract erosion, beach nourishment is the preferred method. Nourishment involves replacing the lost sand, in effect rebuilding the beach, at the citizen’s expense.

Development interests argue that nourishment is expensive and must be repeated frequentlybecause the rebuilt beach remains subject to the same erosive forces that removed the sand in the first place. To them a more permanent solution makes more sense.

To the scientists, all permanent erosion-control structures simply move the problem down the beach. Forty-two prominent North Carolina coastal geologists clearly stated their point in an open letter to state legislators in 2006:

“Any coastal structure designed to trap or hold sand in one location will, without question, deprive another area of sand. In simple terms, any structure (including terminal groins) that traps sand will cause erosion elsewhere….”

Rows of houses with overlapping sandbag walls create huge problems. The walls do as much damage to the beach as hardened seawalls. Removing the sandbags from one property potentially damages all of the others. Caption and photograph: ©Gary Lazorick

Their point confirms the rationale that was used in 1985 to establish the ban on construction of hardened structures for erosion control. The fact that they felt compelled to write the letter demonstrates how persistent the developers have been at attempting to get jetties and groins built to overcome the erosion threat.

Storms Inhibit Early Coastal Development

Coastal erosion was not noticed, or viewed as problematic for barrier island residents, before the explosion of land development for vacationers in the ’70s. The 1982 book, From Currituck to Calabash, published by the North Carolina Science and Technology Research Center, offers a glimpse into the thinking of early residents and visitors. According to the authors, the few souls until then who chose to live and work in the coastal zone had no misconceptions about the real threat of storms and foolishness of building near open-ocean beaches. Settlements were established on the sound side of barrier islands largely to provide protection from storms. The settlements were subject to far less erosion than the ocean-side beaches that are the focus of development today.

Prior to the ’70s people who visited temporarily for recreation did so mainly to hunt or fish and often wanted access to the beach to pursue their quarry. Their dwellings, however, were built inexpensively for short-term shelter, reflecting the knowledge that making a large investment in the hostile beach environment was a losing proposition.

Coastal storms were a well-known hazard. Their power was feared. Early 1800 transportation improvements, and the recreation potential of the beach, tempted some to establish beach communities. The early resort developments were repeatedly damaged by storms. Some communities, like Diamond City in Carteret County, have been abandoned and long forgotten. A quote attributed to an 1879 editorial from the Raleigh Observer demonstrates the storm-focused criticism of coastal development:

“Men cannot build houses upon sand and expect to see them stand now anymore than they could in the olden times…summer seaside resorts must be built high enough above the tide line to insure safety as well as patronage. People are wary of making hairbreadth escapes in seeking health and rest.”

But improvements in transportation and weather forecasting after World War II allayed the historic fear of storms. Government subsidized insurance softened the potential economic blow. The coastal land rush was on.

By 1979 the new visitors began to notice that the beach, in many places, was moving. The ocean that many wanted to be so close to was getting too close.

A 1981 Coastal Study by the North Carolina Marine Science Council reported that aerial surveys had been conducted since 1968 to assess the growing “problem” of beach recession due to erosion. Thirty-year Dare County Planner and current Kitty Hawk Mayor Ray Sturza recalls Nags Head’s Sea Ranch Hotel as one of the first buildings threatened by erosion in the 1970s. The sea—and not just storms—was making people wary. The calls to “do something” escalated.

The Coastal Resources Commission (CRC), formed in 1974 by the Coastal Area Management Act (CAMA) to manage development on the coast, began to respond by establishing regulations intended to unify what until then had been a largely ad hoc set of rules under a variety of state and local agencies.

First, the commission established and published average annual erosion rates by location along the shoreline. The rates allowed communities to establish coastal development rules that would assure construction “setbacks” that accounted for erosion.

Retired Division of Coastal Management Coastal Hazard Specialist Stephen Benton wrote in a 2009 history of coastal regulations that the rates “provided fair warning of the hazards faced and, therefore, no provisions for oceanfront erosion control structures should be necessary.” The intent of publicizing the rates of erosion was to discourage development in known high-erosion zones and to ensure that all property owners were fully informed of erosion and the risks associated with oceanfront development.

Unfortunately, the warning did little to slow development, even in the most hazardous of areas.

The 1979 regulations, with the fact of erosion declared as a natural process, also established either beach nourishment or the relocation of threatened structures as the preferred methods of erosion response.

Finally, the Coastal Resources Commission declared that only structures built before 1979 could be considered for any other type of permanent engineered protection, since any developers after 1979 were informed of the expected erosion problem.

But by 1984 it was apparent that development had not slowed, and the issue was not always so clear cut. Erosion rates varied widely in different places. Storms created rapid and unexpected changes. Often, development consisted of renovation and repair that muddled established construction dates.

And finally, all owners of threatened structures seemed to believe they had an exception.

The Outer Banks Erosion Task Force was formed to comprehensively examine the variety of ongoing issues and provide a basis for additional rulings as they developed. The task force reported in detail the issues discovered and made extensive recommendations for coastal regulation going forward. Six months of heated debate resulted in the adoption of almost every part of the report as policy.

Current Division of Coastal Management staff indicate that much of the language within the report continues to be used today for decision making. Specifically, in regard to permanent erosion control structures, the CRC policy is to “prohibit sand trapping through the use of groins and breakwaters and shoreline hardening by the construction of breakwaters and seawalls.”

That language, often referred to as the “hardened-structure ban,” or simply “the ban,” is commonly thought of as the basis for CRC decisions. Current CRC Chair Bob Emory adds that in reality four additional principles, used as justification for the ban in the original task force report, form as significant a foundation and basis for decisions. The four principles speak for themselves.

• An ocean beach is a dynamic natural system which includes the nearshore, intertidal, and dry sand/frontal dune area as interrelated components.
• North Carolina’s ocean beaches are subject to constant fluctuation as a result of short-term events (storms), seasonal changes, and long-term erosion, all of which are natural processes.
• The intertidal or wet sand beach is reserved for the use of the public and held in trust for the public by the State. The dry sand beach seaward of the vegetation line has been subject to a long-standing custom of public use and enjoyment.
• An unobstructed public beach is essential to the continued vitality of the tourism industry in coastal North Carolina.

Getting Around “The Ban”

The comprehensive nature of the rule hasn’t deterred distressed homeowners and the communities they live in, however, from trying to get relief from the ban. Everyone’s circumstance is, after all, unique.

The CRC regularly hears petitions for exceptions, or variances, from established rules. All variances are considered against four criteria that must be met collectively:
1. Unnecessary hardships would result from strict application of the rules, standards, or orders.
2. The hardships result from conditions that are peculiar to the property, such as the location, size, or topography of the property.
3. The hardships did not result from actions taken by the petitioner.
4. The requested variance is consistent with the spirit, purpose, and intent of the rules, standards, or orders; will secure public safety and welfare; and will preserve substantial justice.
Significantly, if the four criteria are met, the CRC is compelled to grant the variance.

Potential beach-front petitioners hoping to build a structure to protect their property find few options due to the comprehensive language of the ban. Many property owners also fail to realize that they likely would be unable to meet the first two criteria. The loss of beachfront property is a known potential hazard that is assumed with the decision to build.

The exceptions that have been made are familiar to many Carolinians. Historic Fort Fisher couldn’t be relocated, and beach nourishment wouldn’t help. So it’s protected by a hardened structure.

Few would argue that a historic civil-war-era building doesn’t deserve extraordinary consideration, so an exception allowed the hardened structure to be built.

Another well-publicized exception, made for the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge, is not so clear cut. The bridge spans Oregon Inlet to connect Cape Hatteras with Nags Head. It is not a historic treasure. The decision to allow the construction of a terminal groin at the bridge is part of the continuing controversy surrounding the inlet itself.

The exception was granted to keep the bridge from failing or becoming disconnected from the shore due to the natural process of inlet migration, a process that has been occurring since the inlet was formed in 1846.

Prior to bridge construction, the inlet was known to move, or migrate, up to hundreds of feet per year in response to coastal forces.

The fact of inlet migration raised questions about the wisdom of constructing the bridge from the beginning. A design decision, made to support the local economy, turned the questionable decision into an extremely costly one.

To support local commercial fisherman and prevent traffic delays the bridge was designed with a “high rise span” over the existing navigation channel. That decision has led to endless costly efforts to hold the inlet and its channel exactly in place under the span. The 3,000-foot groin built to protect the Bonner Bridge, and the accelerated erosion the groin has caused, are a result of the bridge design decision.

Those consequences underscore how long-term ramifications and unintended problems often arise from seemingly common-sense decisions. The Bonner Bridge groin—a jetty renamed to avoid the specific exclusion of the hardened structure ban—has accelerated nearby erosion despite annual nourishment efforts involving millions of dollars and cubic yards of sand. Even small-scale decisions like allowing individual property owners to temporarily protect their beach homes with sandbags can have a significant impact.

The Sandbag Nightmare

sandbags nightmare
Photograph by ©Gary Lazorick

When a person purchases beachfront real estate and builds on it, he or she may not fully understand the concept of barrier island migration. Their ability to stand on the property, enter the building and continue to do so year after year creates an indelible sense of permanence. It is understandable that people view the threat from erosion as a personal one and hope to prevent losses by building barriers to protect their property.

It is just as understandable for individuals and lawmakers to provide some relief for the victims of storms. The desire to cooperate and respond to those affected by coastal storms compelled the CRC to soften the comprehensive nature of the ban almost immediately after it was enacted. The CRC decided to allow individual property owners to use sandbags by permit in 1985.

The wording of the exception makes clear the purpose of the decision.

“Temporary measures to counteract erosion, such as beach nourishment, sandbag bulkheads and beach pushing, should be allowed, but only to the extent necessary to protect property for a short period of time until threatened structures may be relocated or until the effects of a short-term erosion event are reversed. In all cases, temporary stabilization measures should be compatible with public use and enjoyment of the beach.”

The intent was to allow temporary protection of a structure until it could be moved or the beach rebuilt through natural or man-made forces. Temporary was not defined or quantified. Strict provisions to maintain the public nature of the beach were written including requirements that the sandbags only be placed parallel to the beach and more than twenty feet above the high tide line.

By 1990, public complaints revealed that sandbags were being placed by homeowners with apparently no intention of removing them. Public beach access was in some instances restricted or blocked by sandbag walls intentionally or unintentionally out of compliance. The CRC added a two- or five-year time limit to the permits that allow structures to be temporarily protected by sandbags.

Controlling erosion damages beaches. To coastal scientists, any interruption to natural processes is ultimately harmful.
—Gary Lazorick

The nightmare created by the sandbag exception had begun. By 1994 some sandbags had been in place eight years and roughly three miles of shoreline were affected by the bags. Threatened enforced removal of the sandbags resulted in successive legislative exemptions from enforcement of permit time limits. First, no sandbags should be removed if they were within a federal disaster area, then bags were allowed to remain if they were located in a community with planned beach nourishment.

By 2000, 236 homes were in violation and subject to enforced sandbag removal. A petition to state legislators by Dare County resulted in a moratorium from enforcement until 2006. The moratorium was then extended to 2008.

In 2008, as the CRC began preparing to enforce the law and require expired or out of compliance sandbags to be removed, new problems became apparent and others became more acute. The now common cycle of beach nourishment on many beaches had buried some of the sandbags. Many of the buried sandbags were under the beach that became public trust as a result of the nourishment. Should they be dug up and removed? Who should pay for the removal?

Some sand bags had worked as intended and protected property until beaches recovered on their own. They were allowed by the permits to remain if they had been covered naturally by sand that supported the growth of dune grass or vegetation. Virtually overnight, lumps of sand began appearing over some sandbags with strips of turf placed on top like a bad toupee. Who determines if sandbags are naturally “covered and vegetated?”

Large sections of shorelines were being eroded resulting in long chains of adjacent properties with overlapping sandbag walls. Each property was typically permitted for sandbags separately. Removing the sandbags from one of these properties would place others at risk. Even those still perfectly legal. Should these be enforced? Is it right? Who is liable?

Twenty structures were sent enforcement notices in September 2008 after being prioritized by age, physical condition and impediment to beach access. An unnamed tropical storm—and political maneuvering—resulted in another legislative moratorium on enforcement until September 2010.

The CRC decided at the September 2010 meeting to once again attempt enforcement of out-of-compliance sandbag permits. To avoid additional delay, the same 20 structures identified by letter in September 2008 were prioritized for initial enforcement.

An inventory conducted immediately after the meeting to re-prioritize out of compliance permits for enforcement is sobering. Two of the twenty structures initially prioritized have been relocated and the sandbags have been removed. Two are occupied with the sandbags in place. The remainder were demolished or condemned due to storm damage or erosion. The fate of their sandbags, whether buried, broken apart and washed away, or removed as part of demolition may never be known.

The Flood Insurance Dilemma

A high number of condemned structures does not mean that nature is solving the enforcement problem. The policies of the National Flood Insurance Program provide an incentive to structure owners to continue repairing buildings and maintaining the sandbags. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, as administrator of the program, allows up to $30,000 for damage repairs and $250,000 for the total loss of a building due to a storm.

A key distinction, however, is that loss coverage for structures is for storm and flood damage, but not erosion. The provision inadvertently provides a powerful incentive for homeowners to maintain their sandbags even after their building is condemned and uninhabitable. Structure loss to non-storm related forces is not covered.

This leaves homeowners of condemned buildings locked in a cycle of completing covered damage repairs, while hoping for a storm to end their misery. It also means that it is cheaper to fight the removal of sandbags than suffer the total loss that would occur from erosion without them.

Of the condemned buildings initially targeted for CRC enforcement, only one owner has thrown in the towel and walked away from the property. The remaining owners, facing a huge loss they hope to minimize, will continue to elude or defy the law while awaiting the inevitable—a building washed into the sea.

CRC members have grown tired of revisiting the issue after repeated moratoriums, stays and extensions. During September’s enforcement discussion, CRC member Charles Elam stated, “we have beat this horse to death,” adding that sandbags are no magic solution to threatened structures. He asked the other members to consider the refusal of any further sandbag permit requests. That decision has yet to be made.

Coastal community leaders are clearly in a bind. Most taxpayers with a threatened structure expect the town to fight state restrictions preventing them from protecting their property. At the same time, the complaints from environmentalists and tourists are getting louder. Sandbags slowly destroy beaches but disrupt ecosystems immediately, particularly those of shorebirds and sea turtles. More significantly they are made of non-biodegradable plastics designed to withstand the extreme weathering that occurs on a shoreline. Their failure creates a debris field that can spread for miles. If you’ve walked on our beaches recently, you’ve seen the telltale scraps of black or tan plastic littered among the common shells at the line marking the last high tide.

At this moment, over 150 structures with sandbags are in the water at high tide. Walking on these stretches of beach can be a challenge. There are stretches where the beach has eroded so completely that there is no way to get by some structures at high tide unless you are willing to wade, swim or engage in a spirited game of dodge the waves. For some, these barriers can be hazardous. A tourist drowned in 2009 when she slid off of a sandbag into storm-driven surf.

Areas like South Nags Head, with huge stretches of sandbagged structures blocking the beach, have local politicians actively calling for stricter enforcement and stepped up removal efforts. Others, with the drawbacks of sandbags in mind, work the courts and legislature to allow construction of jetties or groins in hope of avoiding the use of sandbags altogether.

The Political And Legal Pressure Builds

Since the inception of the ban there have been numerous petitions, variance requests and attempts to rewrite its language to allow additional permanent erosion control structures. The Fort Fisher and Oregon Inlet exceptions were granted through force of law. All others but one have been denied.

The one approval was a 1995 request by Bald Head Island to use 15 experimental “sand tubes” in an array to protect the beach. News reports from the time and a published paper by democracy-nc.org attribute the approval to the direct intervention of island homeowner Walter Davis.

Davis, for years identified as the largest individual political contributor in the state, reportedly used his influence to gain an audience with then Governor Hunt after the initial tube request was denied. The result was a letter from Hunt to the CRC Commissioner and reconsideration of the variance request.

At the same time, Davis threatened legal action. The potential lawsuit, viewed as a serious threat to the legitimacy of the Coastal Area Management Act, was considered credible due to the legal and financial resources Davis had readily available.

The reconsidered variance was granted shortly after Davis’s actions. The justification for the variance includes language that continues to be used by ban opponents.

The language dictates that from that point forward the CRC must consider all “proposed erosion response measures using innovative technologies or design” on a “case-by-case basis.” Prior to this variance the CRC could reject hardened structures outright, minimizing debate that creates avenues for influence to be used.

Legal challenges, including a failed 1996 appeal of a denied variance by Shell Island residents, induced efforts to strengthen the hardened structure ban. In 2003, Session Law 2003-427 was approved unanimously by both state chambers, transforming the hardened structure ban policy into law. For several years it appeared that at last efforts to build harmful erosion-control structures had ceased. However, with development continuing to explode, it was only a matter of time before challenges to the ban continued.

Terminal Groins Relabeled As Innovative Technology

By 2007, well connected homeowners from both Figure Eight and Bald Head Islands, as well as a handful of state and community leaders, readied for another tactic. The group focused on changing the law.

The push, spearheaded by Caswell Beach Mayor Harry Simmons, enlisted the support of newly created and existing organizations that favor engineered solutions to coastal erosion problems. Two active organizations, the American Shore & Beach Preservation Association (ASBCA) and North Carolina Beach, Inlet, and Waterway Association—both led by Simmons—added apparent scientific legitimacy and popular support to the effort.

They put forward the idea that terminal groins, despite a pre-ban groin constructed at Fort Macon and the Bonner Bridge groin at Oregon Inlet, are new technology that should receive special consideration by the CRC. To rally additional support, they added the unsubstantiated claim that groins were used successfully by other states to control erosion.

To many, obviously, there is nothing new about terminal groins. They have been constructed in North Carolina, and repeatedly throughout the world, for years. The pro groin group successfully labeled terminal groins as new technology to restart a debate about their effectiveness and provide opportunity for new laws that will allow them.

In 2007 and 2008 successive bills were introduced in the Senate to legislate the construction of a “pilot project” terminal groin at Figure Eight Island to study for effectiveness. Both bills passed in the Senate, but stalled in the House. An additional bill passed in 2008 mandated a scientific study by the CRC to determine the feasibility of groin use at inlets in North Carolina for erosion control. The inconclusive study included language that ultimately formed the basis for the latest bill that is expected to soon become law.

Coastal scientists have no doubt about the effect of terminal groins. Riggs contends that building one on the beach is like putting a sick patient on life support. “You must continually pump sand,” he says, for them to work properly. And in the case of a beach on life support, the patient dies if the pumping stops.

Simmons views terminal groins differently and insists that he does not favor coastal armoring with hardened structures. To him, terminal groins do not armor a coast but “instead serve as tools in helping to retain sand that is hydraulically placed on a beach.” He identifies their design, low slung to allow some sand to pass, as the key distinction from a jetty or other form of coastal armor. But he admits that, in some cases, beaches nearby must be supplemented with pumped sand to replenish what is held back by the barrier of the groin.

“Men cannot build houses upon sand and expect to see them stand now anymore than they could in the olden times…” Raleigh Observer, 1879. Photograph by ©Gary Lazorick

The overlap of politics, economics, science, engineering and the law guarantees that any discussion of coastal policy will be hotly debated. The debate, however, typically focuses narrowly on short-term questions and issues. Obviously, there is little that can be done regarding the enormity of geologic time compared to human lifetime perceptions. The ongoing sandbag dilemma and extended debate regarding terminal groins demonstrate that it is essential to include long-term ramifications before committing to even minor actions.

The comprehensive hardened-structure ban has made our beaches some of the most popular in the nation, largely through maintenance of their natural beauty. History has shown that even minor changes to the ban, like allowing temporary sandbags, have plagued our coast with consequences that have yet to be resolved. Allowing either just one or many terminal groins will surely lead to greater problems and louder calls for solutions.

In the end, the problem of homes threatened by the sea will remain unresolved. At stake, however, is the degree to which the natural beauty of the beach, or even the beach itself, is maintained for generations to come.

Gary Lazorick, a life long North Carolina coastal recreation enthusiast, is a MS Technical Communication -North Carolina State University graduate and a PADI SCUBA Instructor.

An other Oil Spill into Gulf of Bohai, Northeastern Coast of China

china bohai gulf oil spill
The Bohai is a closed sea so its ability to self-clean is limited. Photo source: ©Greenpeace


Official Chinese media on Sunday accused a major state energy company of failing to disclose full and immediate information about an oil spill from a rig off its northeastern coast…

china oil spill greenpeace
Photo source: ©Greenpeace

Read Full Article, AFP

Greenpeace, Dalian Oil Spill 2010
Last year, an oil spill in Dalian, happened after two pipelines exploded on July 16, spilling oil into the Bohai Gulf. An estimated 11,000 barrels (1,500 tons) of crude leaked into the ocean, creating an oil slick that has expanded over some 100 square kilometers. How many times will local communities have to relive this nightmare…?
“Our planet’s over-reliance on petroleum caused this tragedy,” Greenpeace Climate Campaign Manager Ailun Yang said. “It is a sad day for those involved in the clean-up effort, and for the planet as whole. Ultimately it is we human beings who pay the price for our oil addiction.”

Elwha River Restoration: Dams Removal Project

elwha dam
The Elwha Dam is a 108-ft (33 m) high dam located in the United States, in the state of Washington, on the Elwha River approximately 4.9 miles (7.9 km) upstream from the mouth of the river on the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Photo by Larry Ward, Lower Elwha Fisheries Office (2005).

Elwha River Restoration, Olympic National Park Washington

By The National Park Service, US Department of the Interior, Olympic National Park

This September, removal of two dams on the Elwha River begins, setting in motion one of the largest restoration projects in U.S. history.

Removing Elwha and Glines Canyon Dams
The largest dam removal in U.S. history will free the Elwha River after 100 years. Salmon populations will swell from 3,000 to more than 300,000 as all five species of Pacific salmon return to more than 70 miles of river and stream.

Renewing a Culture
The returning salmon and restored river will renew the culture of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, who have lived along the river since time immemorial. Tribal members will have access to sacred sites now inundated and cultural traditions can be reborn. The NPS and the Tribe are primary partners on this project.

Restoring an Ecosystem
This project creates a living laboratory where people can watch and learn what happens when salmon return after a century to a still wild and protected ecosystem. The return of fish will bring bear, eagles and other animals back to an ecosystem that has been deprived of a vital food source for 100 years.

Economic Benefits
Just as the dams played a vital role in the history and development of the area, removing them will create new opportunities for growth and regional vitality.

Restoring the Coast
Removing the dams will reestablish the natural flow of sediment from the mountains to the coast—rebuilding wetlands, beaches and the estuary at the river’s mouth.

Elwha River Restoration
Olympic National Park Washington

Major mitigation projects have been completed, while preparations continue at the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams, the park’s native plant center, and sites throughout the Elwha watershed. Dam removal begins September 17.

• Power production ends at the Elwha River hydro- project June 1, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation begins the decommissioning process.
• Water levels in Lake Aldwell and Lake Mills drop by 18 feet and remain at this level through the summer. Boat launches will be unusable.

• On July 1, Lower Dam Road closes to public access as the Elwha Dam site transitions to a construction environment.

• On August 1, Olympic Hot Springs Road closes to public access just south of Altair Campground and will remain closed through dam removal.

• The second of two levees at the river’s mouth is completed in order to provide continued flood protection to private landowners and the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe’s reservation.

• Wayfinding exhibits are installed at six Port Angeles and Elwha Valley locations, and a trail is constructed to an overlook at Elwha Dam. Web- cams go online from both dam sites.
• Elwha researchers and visiting scientists gather to share their findings at a science symposium Sept. 15-16 at Peninsula College.
• Olympic National Park and a diverse team of partners host a multi-venue event Sept. 17-18 featuring Elwha-related art, music, and cultural and educational activities.

For photos, project updates and news, check nps.gov/olym or interact with “Elwha River Restoration” on Facebook.

Elwha River Restoration, The National Park Service, US Department of the Interior

Olympic National Park

Elwha Dam Closed to Public Access : Effective July 5

By The National Park Service, US Department of the Interior, Olympic National Park

Lower Dam Road, which leads from U.S. Highway 112 to the Elwha Dam, will close to all public access on July 5.

Barnard Construction, Inc., the contractor for the $26.9 million removal of Elwha and Glines Canyon Dams, will install a gate just south of Elwha RV Park. This closure will last for the duration of dam removal, expected to take three years.

The closure is necessary to ensure public safety while the contractor takes over the site and begins preparing the site. Over the coming weeks, Barnard employees will begin minor road upgrades, removing approved trees and widening the road.

Additional work taking place this summer includes testing and removal of hazardous materials from the Elwha powerplant, including asbestos and lead-based paint. Major demolition work at the dam will begin in mid-September, with the majority of Barnard employees and equipment mobilizing in late August.

Barnard was the contractor for recently-completed road repairs at Fisherman’s Corner, along Olympic Hot Springs Road approximately one mile south of the park boundary. Those repairs included erosion control and replacing asphalt along a 2000-foot section of road. Work was subcontracted to Bruch and Bruch, Inc. and Lakeside Industries, both of Port Angeles, Wash. and performed as a modification to the dam removal contract.

Elwha Valley Access
Following a four-week closure, the Elwha Valley of Olympic National Park, including the Elwha and Altair campgrounds, reopened to public access June 29. The Elwha campground is open year-round. Altair will remain open through September 6, its normal operating season.

On August 1, Olympic Hot Springs Road will be gated and closed at a point just beyond Altair campground for the duration of dam removal.

Final designs for repairs to the Whiskey Bend Road are still being developed. These repairs will correct extensive damage caused by heavy rains last December. In addition to slide damage, an assessment by road engineers revealed large voids under the road, seriously compromising road safety and stability. The 4.5-mile Whiskey Bend Road remains open at this time to pedestrians, bicyclists and stock users, who should be use extra caution when crossing the damaged areas.

Olympic National Park is pursuing ways to enable members of the public to view dam removal and restoration as they happen, including construction of an overlook trail off of Lower Dam Road and placement of webcams at each dam site.

High-Elevation Park Roads
Olympic National Park road crews continue clearing snowdrifts that have delayed the opening of some of the park’s high-elevation roads. Obstruction Point Road, which was scheduled to open July 1, is blanketed by snow up to six feet high. After the plows reach the area commonly known as Waterhole (Milepost 3.2), the road crew will finish grading and that section of road could be reopened within one week.

Deer Park Road is also still under snow, with drifts several feet high at the top. Weather permitting, the road’s normal operating season runs May 26 – October 2. After the road crews reach the Waterhole area of Obstruction Point Road, their focus will shift to Deer Park Road. Park officials estimate that Deer Park Road may reopen by the end of July.

Road Construction
A 35-day road construction project is planned for Graves Creek Road this summer to repair damage caused by erosion along a 210-foot embankment adjacent to the Graves Creek trailhead and campground. Timing for this roadwork has yet to be finalized, and will be announced as soon as details become available.

Preliminary road repairs on Sol Duc Road will begin July 18. No closures are necessary for this project, but visitors should expect one-lane traffic and minor delays starting August 8 as contractors repair slide damage.

The mission of the Santa Aguila Foundation is to raise awareness of and mobilize people against the ongoing decimation of coastlines around the world.

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