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Coastal Towns Fighting Erosion by Building Up Beaches

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KURE BEACH — Hurricanes have taken a toll on beaches along the North Carolina coast. Some beach towns have decided they do not have to roll with the tides when it comes to erosion. They are building up their beaches with an eye toward softening the impact of the next big storm.

Betty Medlin owns the Rolling Surf Motel at Kure Beach.Hurricane Frannearly wiped her out.

"The bumper blocks that cars park up against -- a lot of those were in my second floor units. They had broke through the windows and the doors," she says. "The bottom level had about four feet of sand and silt inside."

Three years ago, Kure Beach was back to the road. In her dual role as mayor, Medlin fought hard for a beach nourishment project.

Three years and $15 million later, Kure Beach is back.

Tom Jarrett oversees beach nourishment for theU.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He says along this part of the coast, erosion claims two to five feet of beach a year.

"What we've done here at Kure Beach is create an artificial beach with a dune and berm and it's worked quite well," he says. "The design profile is designed to reduce damages to the buildings."

The Army Corps rebuilt the beach by pumping 3.5 million cubic yards of sand in from the ocean floor two miles offshore. It was enough to widen the beach to more like that of a football field the entire five miles of Kure Beach.

Jarrett says the aim is to reduce damage from future storms.

"Normally you might have to wait 30 or 40 years for the project to pay for itself," he says. "But in this instance, with the frequency of storms that occured shortly after placment, we feel we've already paid for it."

Rex Bennett has fished off the Kure Beach Pier almost every day of his life. The exception was when the beach was being rebuilt.

"It's a good thing to build the beach up, but it's a bad thing for fishing for about three or four months," he says.

"It has definitely paid off and given us our money back," says Medlin.

The nourishment project has delivered exactly what the models have predicted. But everyone here knows the fickle nature of the coast. One big storm, one direct hit, and all of this may be gone.

Jarrett says the project has been duplicated at Carolina and Wrightsville beaches.

"It's not unusual for the public to support railroads, support highways, support airports. If you view this project as a public works facility, a public park, I think it sheds a little bit different light on it," says Jarrett.

There is concern about impact on the environment, on wildlife and crustaceans. That is still being studied.

Because tax money is used in beach nourishment, Kure Beach will always be open to to the public.

The project also includes reinforcing dunes, planting grasses, and building more public access.

Dare County, Bogue Banks, Ocean and Oak Isles, Holden and Topsail Beaches are all looking hard at beach nourishment to fight erosion.

Meantime, the word is out: Kure Beach is back, and business and the fishing has never been better.


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