The North Carolina Department of Environment & Natural Resources (DENR) / Division of Coastal Management (DCM), administers the State’s Coastal Program through an integrated program of planning, permitting, education and research for N.C.’s 20 coastal counties.
In addition to guiding coastal development, the Division also administers the N.C. Public Beach and Coastal Waterfront Access Program. The N.C. DCM has reviewed the proposed “Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) Accessibility Guidelines for Outdoor Developed Areas” (Guidelines) particularly as they relate to beach access areas. These comments are included as Attachment A.
The state of North Carolina is committed to enhancing both public access and handicap accessibility along its beaches, estuarine, riverine and other shoreline areas. The Division of Coastal Management annually awards approximately three million dollars to assist local governments to improve pedestrian access to the State’s beaches and waterways.
The N.C. Division of Coastal Management appreciates the opportunity to comment on this draft and future updates of the proposed Guidelines as they become available.
John A. Thayer Jr. AICP Manager,
CAMA Local Planning & Access Programs
NC Division of Coastal Management
400 Commerce Ave.
Morehead City, NC 28557
Attachment “A”: Comments on Docket No. 2007-02: Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) Accessibility Guidelines for Outdoor Developed Areas
cc: Jim Gregson, Director NC Division of Coastal Management (DCM)
Steve Underwood, Assist. Dir. Policy & Planning DCM
Ted Tyndall, Assist Dir. Of Permits & Enforcement DCM
Robin Smith, Assistant Secretary for Natural Resources, NC DENR
Courtney Hackney, Chairman, NC Coastal Resources Commission
Laurel Wright, Chief Accessibility Code Consultant, NC Dept. of Insurance
Comments on Docket No. 2007-02: Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) Accessibility Guidelines for Outdoor Developed Areas
October 22, 2007
General Comments: The Division is concerned that the proposed guidelines may be inconsistent with the State’s federally approved Coastal Management Program.
The North Carolina Coastal Management Program, including its legislation, policies and regulatory program, has been approved by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (OCRM), as being consistent with the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) (16 U.S.C. 1451 et seq.) The Division is concerned that the proposed guidelines may be inconsistent with the State’s federally approved Coastal Management Program. Along ocean and inlet shorelines, the State’s regulatory program does not permit “development” waterward of the first line of stable vegetation (vegetation line). “Development” includes structures such as walkways and boardwalks, and may not extend waterward of the vegetation line. The Proposed Guidelines would provide for public access structures waterward of the vegetation within N.C.’s Ocean Hazard Area of Environmental Concern. The Guidelines further define areas as “beach access routes” that would also appear to be waterward of the vegetation line.
The DCM recommends that the Access Board ensures that the Guidelines do not compromise lateral beach access for the public, emergency vehicles, and wildlife such as sea turtles by requiring beach access routes that can only accomplished by constructing mega structures resembling ocean piers.
The mean high-water line is a very dynamic feature of the active beach environment. Beach profiles can vary from one part of the coast to another. Variations can also be found within a local community as erosion or accretion rates fluctuate. North Carolina recalculates long-term erosion rates about every five (5) years to both better track the dynamic shoreline trends as well as regulate where structures may be permitted on the oceanfront. Some areas have been known to shift as much as thirty (30) feet in a year, or even twelve (12) feet in a week.
Average annual long-term ocean and inlet shoreline erosion rates (10+ years) and the extent of natural changing shoreline trend characteristics need to be factored into end points for beach access. Exceptions need to recognize these factors as well as the risk of damage from seasonal storms and environmental and climatic changes. Short of building large pier structures with possibly some form of floating docks or adjustable ramps, the provision of safe access for the handicapped to effectively enter the water will not likely be practical.
The proposed Guidelines need to recognize and provide for community differences in shoreline areas related to density, intensity and type of adjacent development.
Suggested Access Plan Concept: The development of universal guidelines by their very nature can be challenged by the “one size fits all” criticism, especially in ocean shoreline and inlet areas. Providing accessibility access, absent of the construction of sea walls and other similar structures along the shoreline, can only be accomplished by being cognizant of the dynamic natural processes.
DCM suggests consideration be given to the provision of an alternative strategy by which specific access and accessibility plans are developed that address whole beach sections rather than site-by-site locations. Allowing for such an approach would facilitate multi-jurisdictional accessibility planning and management. Likewise such planning could require provision of such facilities coast-wide that can enhance coordination and sharing of responsibilities including maintenance, repair, utility, and security costs. This approach may also be the most effective in addressing differences in shoreline areas related to density, intensity and type of adjacent development. Is accessibility demand is equal in all areas?
Response to Questions in the Federal Register and Other Issues:
Applicability Guidelines should be clarified. The register refers to the Guidelines as a requirement for federal facilities and presumably (?) facilities funded or supported by federal funds. The ‘Access Currents Volume #13, No.3’, state’s “The Board intends to develop guidelines for outdoor developed areas controlled by non-Federal entities at a future date”. However language within the proposed rules appears to be written for non-federal facilities. Example, Exception #4, precludes recognition of another access route being available within one half mile unless it is within the “same jurisdiction”. Two points need clarification. The first is whether these guidelines apply to non-Federal facilities which have not received federal monies. The second point is the requirement that each jurisdiction to have distinct one half spacing. This provision discourages partnerships and cooperation between jurisdictions including federal, state and local governments. There needs to be recognition that some small communities, and even counties have little shoreline jurisdiction. For example, Carteret County N.C. has less than a half-mile of ocean shoreline. Municipalities occupy the balance of the 25-mile shoreline.
Question #4 (beach access route required to interface edge of beach): A definition is needed for “edge of the beach” in “T104 Definitions”. Further clarification is necessary in the context of beaches with one or more parallel dune systems. It is not clear where the “outdoor recreation access route” ends and the “beach access route” begins for oceanfront areas that do not have flat beach profiles adjacent roadways or developed areas. Though reference is made to an “unobstructed path”, some N.C. beaches have little or no non-seasonal dry beach areas adjacent frontal dunes or bluff/escarpment areas.
Question #13 (construction tolerances): Increased structural tolerances for beach access routes appear warranted, however an appropriate benchmark needs special study. Besides including survivability factors that are not incompatible with the dynamic nature of the beach system, recognition of other issues, including ensuring that lateral beach access is not obstructed for both the public, emergency vehicles, as well as for sea turtles, is needed. A reasonableness test is needed to balance costs with the ability to attain adequate public access as well as accessibility.
Question #16: (site feasibility & Exceptions): Please see specific comments on page #1. Given the half-mile accessibility requirement for federally funded nourishment projects, we are not sure how many of our communities will be able to meet a “to the high tide level” accessibility requirement given dune profiles for extensive areas along the N.C. coast. Many of our small oceanside municipalities have populations of fewer than 1,000. Leaving aside the state’s rules, environmental and safety issues, the cost of providing and maintaining such accesses can often be significant for beachfront communities especially those that are primarily residential in character with little or no commercial tourist facilities.
Question #17 (parking): Size of parking lots should not be the primary basis for requiring a beach access route. What “adjacent to the beach” means is unclear: Is it between a roadway and the beach? Where is the “edge” of the beach in dune areas? What about parking landward of a roadway? Parking areas are often placed where they can be physically permitted and sited, not where they are ideally suited for beach access or ADA accessibility.
The temporary approach has merits as an alternative, however such facilities when frequently used tend to become de-facto permanent structures with all the associated problems, both environmental and safety.
DCM questions the appropriateness of completely prohibiting limited vehicular or other assertive mobile vehicle access as an option.
Conditions for Exceptions-Reference Conditions #1 & #3: The recognition of lands managed primarily for conservation management and preservation of special ecosystems and rare or threatened plants and animals should be provided for.