Local News

Emerald Isle couple draws line in sand over ownership of beach

Posted August 12, 2016

— A case headed to the state Supreme Court could affect public use of beaches along the North Carolina coast.

Greg and Diane Nies are challenging rules Emerald Isle adopted in 2010, setting aside a 20-foot swath of sand from the dunes out toward the ocean for emergency vehicle access. The New Jersey couple, who bought a beachfront home 15 years ago, say the Carteret County town has effectively created a road across their property.

"The whole issue is, you can't take someone's property without compensation," Greg Nies said Friday. "They’ve never offered to sit down and talk about it."

Under state law, beachfront lots stretch all the way to the average high tide mark. Emerald Isle Town Manager Frank Rush said there's no dispute there, but the public still needs access to the beach.

"The public, having used this beach since time immemorial, has the right to use the beach basically from the base of the dunes to the water," Rush said. "This is a public beach area. It has always been. We want it to continue to be a public beach area."

In a brief filed in the case, Attorney General Roy Cooper agreed.

"The public also enjoys, for example, the rights of fishing, pedestrian travel, hunting, and recreation. These rights have been recognized at common law. They are a function of both the distinct physical nature of beaches and their unique place in our society," he wrote.

Cooper argued that the Nieses should have known there were limits to the privacy of their property.

"After vacationing at least annually in Emerald Isle since 1980, the Plaintiffs knew or should have known at the time they acquired their private property in 2001 of the free usage the public makes of the ocean," he wrote.

The Nieses said they have no desire to keep people from the sands near their home. They just don't appreciate Emerald Isle ordering them to stay off part of their property.

"We cannot sit on a beach towel. We cannot sit on a beach chair. We cannot be there ever," Diane Nies said, adding that trash trucks and other vehicles use the area the town set aside all day long.

"It's not an emergency lane. It's a full-time road," she said.

The state Court of Appeals ruled in Emerald Isle's favor in December, and the state Supreme Court agreed in April to hear the case.

"It’s essentially going to determine whether or not the public will continue to have the right to use the full width of beach in North Carolina," Rush said.

In a post on the town website, Emerald Isle's position is: "The entire North Carolina beach experience is at stake in this case, and the NC Supreme Court's decision could impact all of us in the future."

All eight beachfront counties and 20 beachfront towns have filed legal briefs supporting Emerald Isle, while property rights groups are lining up behind the Nieses.


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  • Mark Cooper Aug 15, 2016
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    Well look now. Other beach communities are backing EI, not those complaining. They have concern for just what I mention. The precedent set. The law needs to be changed not enforced.


  • Mark Cooper Aug 15, 2016
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    It is actually pretty easy to see how much it is used. People post vacation pics by the thousands on the web. Do a google image search for Emerald Island and see how many have vehicles are in them. Check google images from historical google earth pics. I would think the residents complaining should have some wouldn't you?

    Part of the issue is people want to talk about the problem when it is not one. I have seen no one else come to these peoples side to express the same concern. Have there been accidents on the beach involving town vehicles? The time to address this was in 2010 when the newest regs came in. I am tired of people always having an excuse. I bet everyone's salary here that there was a town council meeting where you could speak your mind and express these very concerns instead of 6 years later.

    To little to late imho.

  • Skip Harris Aug 15, 2016
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    View quoted thread

    Well, that would require WRAL to do "journalism" which they have shied away from in favor of being a reposter of Ap stories. I agree that the amount of use is a central issue. You are assuming, with no basis that I can tell, that there is not heavy use by the town. I don't quite understand how you can be without doubt. I am simply going on what is filed and stated. It also really doesn't matter if they knew what the issues were or not. The law does not change based upon what is currently happening. That may be an emotionally valid argument but it is not a legal argument. In the end this will all be decided by the judges who are much more well versed in the law than any of us posting. If it does find in favor of the homeowners then I have little doubt that legislative action will be taken to change the law due to the negative impact to the vacation industry.

  • Mark Cooper Aug 15, 2016
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    I am not saying the laws are not in place to be leveraged in the homeowners favor but I will not back off the dramatization of the statement she made about a full time road. As I said Daytona is a full time road so she is no doubt embellishing.

    I just have no sympathy for someone that has been there, knows the "issues" and then expects to be treated differently.

    WRAL could do their due diligence and interview some of the other beach front owners and get their take. I think that would give us the best story. Do others have a similar attitude or these folks an outlier?

  • Skip Harris Aug 14, 2016
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    View quoted thread

    I think you either misunderstood or intentionally mis-characterized what they are claiming. In this whole argument tou have been stretching mightily for the emergency vehicle argument. They do not appear to want to restrict this use nor the use of the public. The issues seems to center on the town abusing their access for "efficiency and effectiveness" as you state instead of necessity. Any public use of private property must be due to necessity, not because it is more efficient. There may be strong ramifications from this precedent for beach use but there may also be strong ramifications for private property everywhere within the state. State law does not currently recognize property rights on oceanfront property differently than any other. Maybe it should but it does not.

  • Mark Cooper Aug 14, 2016
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    With statements like this I loose all respect because she is trying to dramatize it. ""It's not an emergency lane. It's a full-time road," she said." No its not a full time road. For a limited time in the off season it is open to the public by permit only. It is not Daytona beach as that is a full time beach road. As for use of that 20 feet. Go look at EI on google earth. Use the ruler and see who little this really is proportionally.

    You make the trash trucks go around and you will have more trash on the beaches as it will be significantly less efficient and effective. You make emergency vehicles go around and you add to issues with public safety.

    Lastly this is just a bad precedent to set. I said this before, this is not your typical private lot and they knew this when they bought it. If they can find a way to limit town access it will not be hard to limit public access next. Municipalities inherently have more access than private citizens.

    Can of worms this is

  • Kim Schrock Aug 13, 2016
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    Finally some folks that will exercise their rights. Only on the National Seashore do the Feds have easement. Municipalities do not have the right to take property without compensation especially on the intercoastal. Anyone can own the beach, the state originally sold it that way.

  • Mike Jones Aug 13, 2016
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    Nice try but you still won't answer the question, which you know the answer. Yes ! Our tax dollars help preserve the dunes which in turn protect their McMansion. Having lived there for over 16 years it just sounds like they are tired of people using the road. I'd sell if I was them cuz they'll lose this one. Fix your combover skip, it's leaning to the right

  • Skip Harris Aug 13, 2016
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    View quoted thread

    Well stated sir.

  • Skip Harris Aug 13, 2016
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    View quoted thread

    Feelings hurt? Not in the least. I am making an argument based on logic and reason, my feelings have little to do with my arguments. First of all, what does it matter where they are from or how they interact with the community? The issue is land rights and your non sequiturs only demonstrate your weak arguments on this central issue. Can communities restrict the type of use of the land through zoning? Yes. Can they restrict it from being used at all? Absolutely not. I already answered your question but to expand further; The government cannot gain control of private property through improvements. If this were the case then the government could claim your land because they used a street sprayer to reduce the number of mosquitoes on your property. This would materially improve the property. Should that give the government the right to use your property? John Archer makes an excellent argument which I agree with wholeheartedly.