Fast-Tracked Permits Nourish Beaches and Habitat

The Takeaway: Beach renourishment permits in North Carolina now can be issued in as little as 35 days. These permits previously took up to 135 days to complete.

A biological opinion issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shrinks the permitting process for beach renourishment from a maximum of 135 days to as little as 35 days. The North Carolina Division of Coastal Management cooperated on the opinion, and NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management provided a $57,000 study grant. This new approach makes the planning and permitting of many beach projects more straightforward. The document spells out how renourishment processes must safeguard endangered and threatened sea turtles and shorebirds.

In 2014, North Carolina beaches in five coastal counties were designated “critical habitat areas” for loggerhead sea turtles under the federal Endangered Species Act, spurring concerns about additional permitting delays from beach communities already pressured to finish renourishment projects between one tropical storm season and the next. The state’s response—to streamline reviews—was backed by a historical data analysis and a forecast of upcoming beach projects.

The protected animals and plants are critical to both the state and national coastal ecosystem. Sea turtles are one of the rare animals that eat sea grasses, which keep grasses healthy enough to serve as breeding and nursery areas for many fish and shellfish species.

Piping plovers from the Great Lakes, Atlantic Coast, and Northern Great Plains spend winters on North Carolina beaches, making this the only state where plovers reside all year long. The birds’ continual “cleaning” of insects and crustaceans from beach areas benefit the ecosystem and keep pests away from beach tourists, a major segment of North Carolina’s $1.2 billion tourism and recreation economy.

These and other permitting guidelines are in force:

  • Sand placement activities must be completed before sea turtle nesting and hatching season.
  • Only beach-compatible fill—which is similar to native sediment in composition, grain size, and color—will be placed on beaches or dunes, eliminating wildlife threats such as shells and construction materials.
  • Sand compaction and tilling activities should encourage, and not harm, turtle and shorebird habitat and hatching.
  • Natural sand buildup at inlets should remain, because these spits feature great foraging habitat for piping plover shorebirds that are migrating or wintering.
  • Renourishment and dredging projects must be timed to avoid most of the breeding and migrating seasons for piping plover and red knot shorebirds.
  • Following sand placement, site surveys for at least five years will ensure seabeach amaranth is reproducing, an essential step in stabilizing dunes and supporting shorebird nests.
  • Turtle-nesting surveys should take place for at least two consecutive years after sand placement on beaches renourished with 200,000 or more cubic yards of sand.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-Wilmington District also cooperated on this effort, which applies to locally sponsored and federal projects. Other partners included Dial Cordy and Associates, Inc., the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-Raleigh Field Office. (2018)

More Information: North Carolina Programmatic Biological Opinion

Partners: Dial Cordy and Associates, NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, North Carolina Division of Coastal Management, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service