Tag Archives: CRC

The N.C. Coastal Resources Commission, Sea Level Rise and the Military

October 24, 2013. Governor McCrory has made appointments to  the Coastal Resources Commission (CRC).  Six  new appointees  join four existing CRC members whose terms end June 30, 2014 and one legislative appointee, leaving two legislative appointments still to be made to fill  out the 13-member commission. The press release  on the Governor’s appointments can be found here. A complete list of  current members and contact information  can be found here.

The State of Sea Level Rise Policy in North Carolina.  The new Coastal Resources Commission will  be walking into an ongoing debate over whether — and how —  the state should plan for sea level rise.  You can find an introduction to sea level rise  here.  In March 2010, the  CRC’s  Science Panel on Coastal Hazards  released  a  report on sea level rise on the North Carolina coast.  The Science Panel  reviewed data from several studies of sea level in North Carolina and found that the rate of sea level rise on the North Carolina coast  increased  significantly in  the 20th century.  The Science Panel’s N.C. Sea Level Rise Assessment Report  concluded that the data pointed to a likely  1 meter (39 inch) increase in sea level by 2100.  The 39-inch  projection  represented the middle of three sea level rise  scenarios considered by the Science Panel and would be  consistent with simply continuing the recent relationship between temperature increase and relative sea level rise in North Carolina.  The Science Panel issued a brief  addendum  in April 2012 responding to questions about the methods used in the  2010 report.

For comparison: A number of studies have found that the rate of sea level rise along the North Carolina coast  remained at a fairly consistent  4 inches per century for  hundreds of years before turning upward  in the 20th century. Over the last fifteen years,  sea level on the North Carolina coast  has risen an average of 0.12 inches per year —  or  a rate of  over 12 inches per century.

The Coastal Resources Commission began debating adoption of a  sea level rise policy soon after receiving the Science Panel report.  As developed in a series of public meetings,  the draft policy focused on use of the Science Panel’s sea level rise projection as a planning benchmark. One planning consideration will be location and maintenance of  public infrastructure such as water and sewer lines, water supplies, roads and bridges. Even  an increase of twelve  inches per century can be significant  in coastal areas where  low land elevation, wave action and increased shoreline erosion magnify the flood impact of rising water levels.  (In the next section, you will find a link to  a  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration  sea level riser viewer that allows you to see the  land area flooded at different increases in sea level.) The draft policy  did not  propose  any new regulation of private development.

Both the Science Panel report and CRC discussion of a draft sea level rise policy generated opposition  from  coastal  developers, realtors and some local government officials. That opposition led to legislation,  Session Law 2012-202, barring any state agency other than the Coastal Resources Commission from adopting a rate of sea level rise for regulatory purposes and preventing the CRC from taking any regulatory action  before July 1, 2016.  In the meantime, S.L. 2012-202 directed the Science Panel to provide an update of the 2010 report on sea level rise by March 1,  2015.

In response to concerns about  the Science Panel’s  projection,  the CRC removed references to any specific rate of  sea level rise from the draft policy.  In August 2012, the CRC voted  to send the  policy out for public comment as a proposed rule.  The policy then got caught up in a debate  over the appropriateness of  going through rulemaking on a policy that had no regulatory impact.  At the end of  the Perdue administration, the sea level rise policy  remained in rulemaking  limbo. One question for the newly appointed Coastal Resources Commission will be whether  to  revive discussion of planning for sea level rise on the North Carolina coast.

Overlapping the Science Panel’s work,  in 2009 the N.C.  Division of Emergency Management (DEM) began a Sea Level Rise Impact Study  under a  $5 million grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  The  DEM study was designed to look at the impact of different sea level rise scenarios on  natural  resources  and the built environment.  In 2012, the DEM study also met opposition. Political pressure  reportedly  caused DEM to back away from using the Science Panel’s projection (a  39-inch  elevation in sea level  by 2100)  as the worst case scenario in the Impact Study.  (See a May 2012  story by Charlotte Observer reporter Bruce Henderson.)  I have not been able to confirm the range of sea level rise scenarios to be included in the final Sea Level Rise Impact Study.  DEM had  planned  to complete the study by the summer of 2013, but  has not yet released a report. You can find the DEM webpage for the study here.

New Information on Sea Level Rise.  While North Carolina’s sea level rise planning efforts  have stalled, other scientific and planning organizations  continue  to collect sea level rise data, project sea level rise impacts and  develop plans to adapt to rising sea levels.

A  NOAA website showing the potential effect of sea level rise now includes the North Carolina coast.  Maps developed by NOAA’s  Coastal Science Center show  areas  inundated as sea level rises. You can find the sea level rise viewer  at http://www.csc.noaa.gov/slr/viewer/.  To see a visualization of sea level rise on the North Carolina coast, choose North Carolina under the “zoom in”  function on the right-hand side of the webpage.  Once the  aerial photo of the state appears, use the sea level bar on the left-hand side of the webpage to select a  sea level. The bar ranges from current sea level up to 6 feet above  current levels.  With each increase in sea level, the map  shows the land  area  flooded by the encroaching waters of the Atlantic Ocean and coastal sounds.

The most recent report of the International Panel on Global Climate Change, issued in September,  estimates global mean sea level will rise between10 and 32 inches by the end of the century. Those numbers represent an increase over mean sea level rise projections included in the 2007 IPGCC report.   Yale Environment 360, a  publication of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, just published a helpful summary of the new  IPGCC report  on sea level rise here. Sea level does not rise at the same rate on all coastal shorelines, however,  and the N.C. Science Panel report explains why  relative  sea level rise on the North Carolina coast will likely be higher than the global mean sea level.

Coastal Military Bases and Planning for Sea Level Rise.  North Carolina has  a number of    military installations  in the coastal area.  In 2010, the Department of Defense (DOD) Quadrennial Defense Review for the first time identified global climate change as a national security concern because of the potential impact on U.S. military installations around the world.  DOD had begun to focus on  the impact of sea level rise on coastal military bases even earlier out of concern that  changes associated with sea level rise (more rapid coastal erosion, rising water tables and salt water intrusion in aquifers)  have the potential to impact  military infrastructure and training facilities.  A 2008  National Intelligence Council assessment concluded that 30 U.S. military installations were at risk of damage from rising sea level.

Some DOD sea level rise assessments have looked specifically at  N.C. military installations. A  2009  sea level rise risk assessment for  DOD  modeled shoreline changes at coastal installations in N.C.  in response to different rates of sea level rise. The consultant’s report  used the Air Force Dare County Bombing Range as an example of the results — between 58% and 100% of the land area of the bombing range could be lost to shoreline changes in response to projected rates of sea level rise. DOD’s environmental research arm, the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP), has several  projects underway to evaluate the impact of climate change and sea level rise on  U.S. military installations.   One SERDP project involves  N.C’s Camp Lejuene Marine Corps Base in Onslow County. You can find a description of the SERDP projects here.

Going in Different Directions?  Setting aside debate about the cause, the U.S. Department of Defense has chosen to assess the vulnerability of coastal military installations to sea level rise and actively plan for those impacts.  The practicality of managing  sea level rise at existing military installations  may  become a factor in future Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) decisions.  The military’s  response to sea level rise  could have significant implications for North Carolina since seven of the state’s eight military installations are located at the coast.  (Fort Bragg is the one exception.)  But as DOD moves to understand and  plan for  sea level rise, N.C.’s political leadership has turned away from sea level rise planning.  Given the large economic footprint of the state’s military installations (see a 2013 report for the N.C. Department of Commerce), state leaders have increased efforts to support  the military presence in the state.   Right now, those efforts don’t  include cooperative planning  for  sea level rise, but that may become important.

The Disappearance of the Coastal Resources Commission

September 25, 2013.   Under the state’s Coastal Area Management Act (CAMA), the Coastal Resources Commission (CRC) has responsibility for developing standards needed to balance protection of highly productive  coastal resources, public trust rights, and  economic development.  But  the N.C. Coastal Federation’s Coastal Review Online  reports that  the CRC  has been effectively out of commission since the beginning of August. The question is why.

This year,  the General Assembly  changed the makeup of the  Coastal Resources Commission by  reducing the number of commissioners from 15 to 13;  revising  the categories for appointment; and  giving  legislative leadership the  power  to appoint 4 of the 13 members. (See Sec. 14.24  of Senate Bill 402.) To  make the changes  effective more quickly, the  bill  caused the terms of  all  Coastal Resources Commission members serving on January 1, 2013 to  expire on  July 31, 2013 with four exceptions. Those four seats, specifically identified in the bill, have terms expiring on June 30, 2014. The bill required  the Governor to appoint nine new CRC members by August 1, 2013 to replace the nine whose  terms would end on July 31, 2013.

The problem is that  new appointments have not been made and the CRC webpage now lists only four members  — the four whose terms extend until June 30, 2014.  Those four members alone  participated in a special called meeting of the commission  in August to make a decision  related to litigation over an earlier CRC  variance decision. The regular September  meeting of the CRC scheduled for this week has been canceled.

The reason for the sudden loss of two-thirds of the commissioners  is unclear.  Both the N.C. Constitution and state law  expressly say that state officials can and should serve  until their successor has been appointed or elected.

N.C. Constitution, Article VI, Sec. 10: “In the absence of any contrary provision, all officers in this State, whether appointed or elected, shall hold their positions until other appointments are made or, if the offices are elective, until their successors are chosen and qualified.”

N.C.G.S. § 128-7: “All officers shall continue in their respective offices until their successors are elected or appointed, and duly qualified.”

The term “officers” covers all elected and appointed state officials, including members of boards and commissions. The provisions exist to guarantee that essential government functions continue even as terms of office end.   N.C. judges  have applied  the provisions to find that decisions made by state officials  beyond the end of their appointed term are valid  and enforceable since  those officials legitimately continue in  office until a  successor takes over.

The CRC’s responsibilities go beyond  rule adoption. CAMA also gives the CRC power to grant variances from  coastal development  standards,  issue declaratory rulings (interpreting how  coastal development rules  apply to a particular project), and approve local land use plans in the coastal counties. Those decisions are often time sensitive and important to developers as well as local governments,  community groups and environmental organizations. Right now, the CRC cannot meet those obligations with a membership of four.   Four commissioners may not even  meet CRC quorum requirements unless the remaining nine members resigned or have been individually removed from office. (Neither seems to be the case.)  The remaining four commissioners also cannot represent the broad range of interests and expertise needed to make balanced decisions about protection of the state’s coastal resources.