The Southern Environmental Law Center filed a challenge Thursday to a state permit that would allow developers to build 21 beachfront homes in Sunset Beach, according to a news release.
The center filed the challenge in the state Office of Administrative Hearings on behalf of the Sunset Beach Taxpayers Association and N.C. Coastal Federation.
“This state permit would allow the destruction of dunes that buffer the community from storms and hurricanes, and jeopardize the integrity of Bird Island,” said Geoff Gisler, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, in the center's news release. “Under this illegal permit, the community would lose the natural setting that makes Sunset Beach so unique for a questionable development in a hazardous location.”
Efforts to reach one of the developers involved in the project, Sammy Varnam, were unsuccessful Thursday. Varnam said in a recent Raleigh News & Observer story
that those who oppose the project, Sunset Beach West, have a negative attitude in general toward coastal development. He said the developers are not doing anything illegal.
One claim in Thursday's filings is that the state’s permit illegally allows the developer to bulldoze 15 acres of protective dunes at Sunset Beach, the news release said. Dunes serve as critical habitat for wildlife and vital protection to beach communities like Sunset Beach faced with the threats of hurricanes and storms, according to the release.
The development would also destroy an area enjoyed by residents and visitors who fish, bird watch and enjoy the sunsets at the same location, the release said.
“This project threatens to undo the work done decades ago to protect Bird Island,” said Mike Giles, N.C. Coastal Federation's coastal advocate in Wrightsville Beach, in the release. “We will ask the court to provide the protection that the State failed to.”
Public sewer utilities cannot be extended due to the hazardous location where the permit allows the developer to build, the release said. The developer’s current plan includes septic systems, which are prohibited under the Sunset Beach land use plan due to the accompanying groundwater pollution and threat of flooding, according to the release.
“The distinct ecosystems which make up the Sunset Beach coastal area include an array of extensive dunes which serve to protect the wildlife habitats behind them. This project proposes to alter these key foundational dunes which in turn will threaten the integrity of the overall ecosystem," said Richard Hilderman, vice president of Sunset Beach Taxpayers Association. "Thousands of tourists come to Sunset Beach each year to enjoy the beauty of Bird Island and Sunset Beach which includes the dunes and wildlife."
A deannexation bill that would have removed the land for the Sunset Beach West Development from the town of Sunset Beach died earlier this summer during the General Assembly's short session, according to media reports