Pubdate: Fri, 27 Jul 2007
Source: Star-News (NC)
Copyright: 2007 Wilmington Morning Star
Author: Gareth McGrath
Bookmark: (industrial hemp0


Panel Looks for Biodegradable Coastal Policy

Call it the Cheech and Chong bag.

As the N.C. Coastal Resources Commission wrestles with what to do 
about the proliferation of sandbags along the state's coastline, one 
idea that's been floated is to make the bags biodegradable. And one 
of the materials under consideration is hemp - the industrial, 
non-hallucinogenic cousin of marijuana.

In short, that would be one way to make sure the sandbags get rolled 
up instead of becoming semi-permanent structures along the North 
Carolina coast.

"If we did adopt this, we'd be dictating the temporary nature of the 
bags by making them biodegradable," said Courtney Hackney, CRC 
chairman and a marine biologist at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

The CRC has placed a May 2008 deadline for the removal of most 
uncovered sandbags along the coast.

Sandbags were originally meant to offer threatened structures 
temporary protection, generally for two years, until a more permanent 
solution could be developed.

Those final solutions usually were removal of the threatened property 
or a beach nourishment project.

But regulators have been prone to issue extensions, and many coastal 
towns have successfully argued that they are pursuing a beach 
nourishment project to fix their erosion problem.

The Riggings condominium project in Kure Beach, for example, has 
relied on sandbags for protection since 1985. The N.C. Division of 
Coastal Management recently ordered the bags removed, a decision the 
homeowners are challenging in court.

The bags also have proliferated in many places, forming unattractive 
and long, "hardened structures" since sandbags don't solve erosion 
but simply move it along the beachfront. Thus, it's often only a 
matter of time before neighboring areas to a sandbagged property need 
the bags themselves for protection.

If the schedule remains, homeowners relying on uncovered sandbags to 
fend off the encroaching Atlantic could start getting removal letters 
in the mail next spring.

State regulators estimate there are about 150 sandbag structures that 
would need to come out, including 19 in New Hanover County, almost 
all on Figure Eight Island.

Whether public pressure or the General Assembly allows Coastal 
Management to go ahead with the plan is a very large unknown.

Renee Cahoon, a CRC member and mayor of Nags Head, where many of the 
visible sandbag structures are located, said the impending deadline 
is already causing consternation in her town.

"It's not going to be fun," she said.

That's led CRC members to discuss a new approach to limiting the time 
future sandbags can stay on the beach, which also could prompt more 
urgency in developing a long-term solution.

One possibility would be to use natural materials like cotton or 
burlap for the bags instead of polypropylene or polyester.

Those fabrics have long life spans. But the polyester fabrics often 
soil marshes and other coastal areas when bags are ripped or wash away.

Using natural fibers would bring a built-in time limit to a sandbag 
structure. It also would solve the lingering problem of "orphaned" 
sandbags that are left behind on the beach, whether on purpose or 
because they're buried.

But one of the great unknowns is how cotton or woven natural fibers, 
like flax or hemp, would hold up in the harsh oceanfront environment.

Natural fibers can decay quickly if not treated and could be prone to 
attacks by microorganisms.

Coastal Management's Scott Geiss said the initial reports aren't 
good, with 66 days a worst-case scenario given by industry officials.

But a 2005 Army Corps of Engineers study, prompted by the failure of 
sandbags in Iraq, showed cotton and burlap bags kept their strength 
well in a desert environment.

A dry desert, though hot and sunny like beach areas, is a much more 
controlled environment than the salty and wet oceanfront.

"There are a lot of unknowns out there right now," Geiss said of the 
practicality of using biodegradable sandbags.

Or as Cheech and Chong might say, there's still a good chance the 
concept could go up in smoke. 
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