Pubdate: Tue, 07 Aug 2007
Source: Charlotte Observer (NC)
Copyright: 2007 The Charlotte Observer
Author: Gareth Mcgrath, (Wilmington) Star-News
Bookmark: (Hemp)


COASTAL RESOURCES COMMISSION N.C. considers hemp sand bags Hemp among 
materials that could help state's sacks of sand fade away

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, nonhallucinogenic 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 N.C. 
coast. "If we did adopt this, we'd be dictating the temporary nature 
of the bags by making them biodegradable," said Courtney Hackney, CRC 
chair and a marine biologist at UNC 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 towns 
have successfully argued that they are pursuing a beach nourishment 
project to fix their erosion problem.

The Riggings condominium project in Kure Beach near Wilmington, 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 force it elsewhere along the beachfront. Thus, it's often 
only a matter of time before neighbors of 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 located on Figure Eight Island.

The unknowns Whether public pressure or the N.C. General Assembly 
allows state 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.
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