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Sandbags No Longer to Hold Back Ocean Along N.C. Coast

Beach house owners have one less weapon to keep back the Atlantic Ocean after the state began enforcing a regulation Thursday requiring the removal of sandbags that were supposed to be temporary.

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NAGS HEAD, N.C. — A state decision to enforce a coastal regulation requires property owners along the North Carolina coast to remove sandbags from land threatened by the creeping Atlantic Ocean.

State officials argued that the implementation of the regulation only honored the intent for sandbags to be temporary guardians against the Atlantic. But homeowners said the loss of the protection of sandbags will ensure the destruction of their homes, many of which are retirement investments.

"This is going to be catastrophic for the homeowners, for the state, for everybody," said Yogi Harper, the owner of both a beach house protected by sandbags and a business that installs them.

Harper said his company runs a marathon race against Mother Nature, and he complained that the state's decision to change its rules now is short-sighted.

"It's like running the Daytona 500," Harper said. "Everybody lines up at the beginning, and they run 450 miles in forward. Then they put it in reverse and run the last 50 in reverse."

The state, however, passed the regulation in part due to public opinion about sandbags, said Mike Lopazanski, policy analysis manager in the state Division of Coastal Management.

"The commission started to receive some complaints from the public that they were unsightly, there were these massive walls," Lopazanski said. "That's when they really nailed down the temporary nature of the sandbags."

Owners may need to remove sandbags from around 100 homes in Dare County this spring, state officials said.

"The commission feels enough time has passed, that it's time to enforce the rules as they are written," Lopazanski said.

Sandbagged houses will need to be moved or they will most likely be lost to the sea. That's the case at the Riggins' Condo complex in Kure Beach, where beach re-nourishment is not an option due to an environmental issue.

Bob Rickavaugh said he's struggling to save his beach house in Nags Head. In 2001, the state granted him a temporary permit to stack sandbags in front of his house until the beach could be rebuilt.

Voters turned down funding beach re-nourishment, however, and he must remove the sandbags from Thursday, per the state's regulation.

"I've owned this since 1989," Rickavaugh said. "When I bought it, there was a road in front and 30 feet of dune in front of that. Now there is nothing in front of it, except the sandbags protecting the house."

He is among many homeowners who use the rental income from these beach houses to fund their retirement, Rickavaugh said.

"When I bought this back in '89, I thought it was a good investment property," he said. "That is a good part of my retirement. I depend on that house."

State inspectors will visit each site to determine where sandbags may stay and which will go. Rickavaugh said he and other homeowners might fight to keep their sandbags.

"I think it should be a class-action lawsuit against somebody, probably the state," Rickavaugh said.


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