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Residents Debate Moving Mason Inlet Away From Shell Island

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WILMINGTON, N.C. — It will cost $6.5 million to move Mason Inlet away from Shell Island, while residents debate the age-old struggle of whether to preserve what man made by remaking what nature made.

"When they dredge it and fill it in, you're just going to destroy an ecosystem. They call that progress," said Wilmington resident David Williams. "I think the project is actually a waste of money."

"[We're] talking millions and millions of dollars here. Somebody's got to pay for it," Wilmington resident Richard Barber said. "It's just politics as usual. In the end, they're going to get what they want."

The money will come from 1,044 property owners who stand to benefit from the project, some paying as much as $100,000 each.

"You know if people's got the money to pay for their view and everything, so be it," Barber said.

For years, massive sandbags have been the only thing keeping the water at bay. Without them, the Shell Island resort would have fallen into the ocean a long time ago. Engineers say once the inlet is closed, there will not be any need for sandbags.

"Eventually, once we complete the project, it will be 3,500 feet up the beach here," said Frank Pinkston of the Mason Inlet Preservation Group.

From the roof of the Shell Island Resort, you can get a bird's-eye view of the project. It can be a tedious task -- dredging a new inlet near Figure 8 Island, filling in the old inlet near Shell Island with sand.

"It's an engineering feat, unbelievable to some, but it's possible to do it," Pinkston said.

Pinkston, a north Wrightsville Beach property owner, is helping to pay for the move.

"We had to solve the problem somewhere or just walk away and let these properties go in the ocean," he said.

Wilmington resident Diane Hastell has been coming to the beach at Mason Inlet for 12 years.

"They call it Doggie Beach. You don't have to have your dogs on a leash," she said.

Hastell said the move is necessary.

"I think it's great for the residents of Shell Island and the north Wrightsville Beach area. You get a strong northeaster in the wintertime and the water was way up to the condos there," she said.

The changes that would be made may not be a permanent fix. Engineers said the inlet could move back toward Shell Island at a rate of up to 1 foot per day.

"We've learned from the history of the waterway out there that it won't stay there. It will try to migrate back again," Pinkston said.

To prevent migration, the county has a 30-year permit to dredge as needed to keep the new inlet where it is, but many people still are not convinced that man can make nature do anything.

"You know we're in a hurricane alley here, so it ain't going to take but one good hurricane or major storm and I think all that will be gone again," Barber said.

The project is expected to be finished by the end of March, but it may take longer if winter storms set work crews back. Organizers said visitors to Shell Island this summer will see a much larger beach.


Amanda Lamb, Reporter
Edward Wilson, Photographer
Kamal Wallace, Web Editor

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