WILMINGTON, NC – Congressman David Rouzer (NC-07) today announced that U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt reversed a 2016 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service interpretation that would have significantly increased the cost of beach renourishment projects for certain towns that seek to protect life and property from flood and storm damage. In an objection by Fish and Wildlife dating back to 2016, an interpretation of the 1982 Coastal Barrier Resources Act (CBRA) would have prohibited any beach from utilizing sand from a CBRA zone. This would have caused very damaging and far-ranging consequences for Wrightsville, Kure and Carolina Beaches. Those towns would have been prohibited from using sand from inlet borrowing sites for coastal storm damage reduction projects. The agency’s objection would have forced the towns to seek other sand from further away offshore, escalating the cost of these projects.
“This reversal in opinion is a return to common sense,” said Congressman Rouzer. “The 2016 objection to the use of these towns’ traditional sand borrow sites is the kind of bureaucratic red tape that costs taxpayer dollars with no benefit. I’m pleased we were able to work on a bipartisan basis to urge the Department to reverse this directive. This is a major win for taxpayers and our beaches.”
In a bipartisan letter sent last month, Congressman Rouzer and two of his colleagues wrote Sec. Bernhardt to urge the Department to revise the Fish and Wildlife Service’s objection.
“We write to you about an interpretation of the [CBRA] that could jeopardize public and private infrastructure, small businesses and regional economies,” the lawmakers wrote. “In our congressional districts, coastal storm damage reduction projects carried out by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in partnership with our respective states have been stalled, and their costs have ballooned, because of a 2016 interpretation…that essentially states that sand from System units cannot be placed on a non-CBRA shoreline. This decision suddenly prohibited sand recycling from certain System units – despite the Service in 1996 having previously allowed san recycling from these same System units per CBRA’s exceptions.”
In his response to the lawmakers, Sec. Bernhardt agreed that the Fish and Wildlife Service’s interpretation of the Act was improper.
“…after reviewing the language of the Act and the legislative history, the more reasoned interpretation is the Congress did not intend to constrain the flexibility of agencies to accomplish the CBRA’s broader purposes of protecting coastal barrier resources by requiring beach renourishment to occur ‘solely’ within the system,” Bernhardt wrote. “As a result, sand from units within the system may be used to renourish beaches located outside the system, provided the project is consistent with the purposes of the Act.”
Following publication of the response letter, Sec. Bernhardt issued the following statement:
“The Trump Administration is committed to protecting our coastlines and utilizing our available resources to restore, enhance or stabilize our beaches consistent with the law Congress wrote,” said Sec. Bernhardt. “Today’s notification clarified our understanding of the crystal clear direction provided by Congress decades ago.”
Local officials and shore protection staff praised Sec. Bernhardt’s decision.
“The Secretary’s interpretation, allowing the continued use of our engineered inlet borrow sites, validates our projects’ ongoing compliance with both CBRA and NEPA tenets,” said Layton Bedsole, New Hanover County’s Shore Protection Coordinator. “This decision will save dollars, reduce impacts and support coastal habitats.”
“This is certainly a big issue for beach communities that have CBRA Zones,” said Debbie Smith, the mayor of Ocean Isle Beach, one of many North Carolina communities that benefit from federal beach renourishment funding. “I think Congressman Rouzer did the right thing by bringing reason to the table and getting the policy changed.”