March 31, 2008

N&O The Roots of CAMA and the CRC

Nice piece on Milton Heath in the N&O about a week ago. Mr. Heath was the only lawyer working on the state's original Coastal Area Management Act or CAMA. The elements of the act have been extremely important in limiting development on the NC coast.
"When the act passed in 1974, North Carolina helped to set the bar for coastal protection in the United States.

'It opted for a different kind of development than the more intensive, right-up-to-the-water kind of development that you see in other places,' says Bill Ross, secretary of the State Department of Environment and Natural Resources. 'You notice a big difference between North Carolina's coastline and the way the coastline is managed or dealt with in places like Virginia Beach or Myrtle Beach.'"
When you read this piece you get the impression that the adoption of the CAMA was a free will act by the state and the limits it imposed were entirely self imposed (and drafted by Milton Heath). The facts are somewhat different. In a letter to the N&0 Mr. David Bosly, of Grifton correctly points out the genesis of the CAMA was a federal mandate
Two years earlier, Congress passed the "Coastal Zone Management Act" (PL92-503), which required federal activities in coastal areas to be consistent with federally approved plans adopted by the relevant states. As no such plans existed, that act appropriated money to assist states in developing them and listed a dozen or so specific items they should address. CAMA essentially codified what Congress asked for. Some 30 states found their own Milton Heaths to do the same.
Development trends in NC owe a great deal to their timing. The areas of the Atlantic coast everyone now views as overdeveloped saw heavy development in place well before the mandates that lead to CAMA. (Everyone except Dr. Pilkey that is who thinks everything is overdeveloped) In fact it was the realization that high rise oceanfront development was a disaster waiting to happnen, led to the rules. Of course that early development has long had sufficient threatened property value to make beach nourishment a fiscal nobrainer. You don't let billion dollar buildings fall in the sea, just billion dollar towns.
I love the development patterns we have chosen in most of coastal NC. I think they fit the area, make a great place to live and are broadly sustainable in envirionmental terms.
What I don't like is being punished for making wise decisions. Early in the permitting process for the moribund federal shoreline protection plan for Nags Head and KDH, the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) presented a map showing where the property value was sufficient to justify the ocst of nourishment, areas that had a positive cost benefit analysis. The areas did not include the most threatened areas in either town, just the most developed. We were being punished for developing along the lines mandated by the Feds. Had we lined the shore with high rise condos the beach would be a half mile wide by now.
I have asked a lot of Federal bureaucrats to explain the disconnect between the two programs and none have had an adequate explanation beyond "that is what Congress has said". Not an adequate answer.
Milton Heath and the CAMA helped our state make good decisions about development. It forced local governments to think about their development decisions in a broad context. It banned the one thing everyone (almost everyone [see note 2 below]) agrees damages the public beach, permanent seawalls. But Milton Heath and CAMA were not unique and affected only new development they couldn't role back the clock or level the playing fields. Think about that the next time you hear someone complain about overdevelopment.

Note: I am not going to publish comments that debate the wisdom of beach nourishment so don't even send them. Comments on the roots and impacts of CAMA are welcom.
Note 2:Carteret County News Times (3/30/08)

No man’s life, liberty or property is safe while the legislature is in session — Mark Twain

In a recent Tar Heel of the Week column, Milton Heath is recognized for drafting the Coastal Area Management Act (CAMA). With various degrees from Phillips Exeter, Harvard, Columbia and stints at the governor’s office in Albany, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Government attorney “… wound up being the only lawyer serving the legislature’s environmental committee.” According to the article, CAMA has been an outstanding success “because Carolina Beach doesn’t look like Myrtle Beach and cottage owners were not allowed to build seawalls.” According to Robin Smith, assistant secretary to Bob Ross at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), “… seawalls cause the beach to disappear at high tide.” Todd Miller, executive director of the N.C. Coastal Federation, heaped more accolades commenting, “The seawall ban was Heath’s most important legacy.” I am not a coastal engineer or geologist. I have no law degree. I don’t even have a government or nonprofit organization position. However, I know a seawall when I see a seawall. Ms. Smith, Mr. Miller, we have seawalls on the Crystal Coast. No Ms. Smith, the beach doesn’t disappear at high tide. There’s good reason why Mr. Ross, Ms. Smith and Mr. Miller did not know about the seawalls. They are buried under sand! CAMA did not put the sand there. The N.C. Coastal Federation opposed putting the sand there. With all due respect to Mr. Heath, Mr. Ross, Ms. Smith and Mr. Miller, Tar Heels should thank Cap’n Jim Willis of Atlantic Beach. He held the N.C. Ports Authority and the Army Corps of Engineers accountable for the sand they proposed to throw offshore after gouging the pristine estuaries of Beaufort Inlet to unnatural depths to accommodate commercial shipping that will never arrive. Thank you Cap’n Jim. Mark Twain would be proud of you. – Joe Exum


At 7:56 PM, Blogger Monticello said...

Sounds similar to the story where the good folks of Dare County had the foresight to request the Feds preserve their beach and may wind up losing their use of the same.


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