News | July 11, 2016

Local groups move to protect North Carolina’s Sunset Beach, Bird Island

Dune fences lead the way to the beach in Oak Island, North Carolina.

On behalf of the Sunset Beach Taxpayers Association and North Carolina Coastal Federation, SELC filed a request for a hearing with the North Carolina Division of Coastal Management as the required first step in challenging the state permit for a private developer to bulldoze 15 acres of protective dunes along the Sunset Beach, N.C., oceanfront to allow for building 21 houses. The hearing request was filed Friday.

“This permit threatens what makes Sunset Beach unique,” said Senior Attorney Geoff Gisler. “It would not only allow the destruction of dunes that buffer the community from storms and hurricanes, it also jeopardizes the integrity of Bird Island—which draws thousands of people a year to the island’s beaches.”

The developer failed to provide proof of ownership of the oceanfront land it seeks to develop, as required for a permit under state law, according to the documents filed. The town of Sunset Beach is also pursuing claims to the oceanfront land in a separate state court filing.

“More than a decade ago, the Federation joined with the people of Sunset Beach and the state to protect the Bird Island Reserve,” said Mike Giles, North Carolina Coastal Federation's Coastal Advocate in Wrightsville Beach. “The environmental effect of this permit not only threatens to undermine that effort, the developer has not even demonstrated that it owns the property.”

Another violation outlined in the filings is the illegal allowance in the state permit for the developer to bulldoze 15 acres of protective dunes at Sunset Beach. Dunes serve as critical habitat for wildlife and vital protection to beach communities like Sunset Beach faced with the threats of hurricanes and storms. The development would also destroy an area enjoyed by residents and visitors who fish, bird watch, and enjoy the sunsets at the same location.


“Over the years, science has demonstrated the importance of sand dunes and marshes in protecting property from flooding due to tidal water surges from strong storms and hurricanes,” said Richard Hilderman, Ph.D, vice president of the Sunset Beach Taxpayers Association. “Marshes are also important because most of the seafood we eat spend at least part of their life cycle in the marshes. This development would significantly degrade the dunes and marshes we depend on.”

Public sewer utilities cannot be extended to the due to the hazardous location where the permit allows the developer to build. In response the developer’s current plan includes septic systems, which are prohibited under the Sunset Beach land use plan.

Read the Wilmington Star-News coverage of the issue: Environmental law center challenges Sunset Beach development permit