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Council Gets Update On Future Snow's Cut Army Corp Project

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CAROLINA BEACH - The Carolina Beach Town Council got an update May 27th on plans previously released by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to change the use of land along Snow's Cut to make way for a survey office.
The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers is planning to obtain a change of status for land they own along Snow's Cut - the Intracoastal Waterway - in Carolina Beach.
The land runs from Snow's Cut Bridge east between Snow's Cut and homes located on Spencer Farlow Drive down to the North Carolina Wildlife Boat Ramp on Annie Drive.
According to Assistant Town Manager Ed Parvin, a meeting was held with the Corp of Engineers April 15th.
Parvin explained, "Jerry and I met with John Manning from the Wilmington ACOE Real Estate Office today to discuss their future plans for their property adjacent to Snow's Cut. In the near future the ACOE will be conducting an Environmental Assessment (EA) to change the status of the property to "Operational."
Parvin explained, "The change will accommodate a future survey office that will be manned during regular working hours. With this change the ACOE will be looking to install a fence similar to the one we are required to erect for the Island Greenway. The white hashed line represents the location of the fence. It will be located approximately 12 feet from their property line. There will be a 2' buffer from the fence and then the Town will have an opportunity to relocate the current path in the remaining 10 feet. The future path location is represented by the red line."
Parvin explained, "There are some uncertainties with timeline at the ACOE which depends on upcoming budgets. Right now we can anticipate seeing a letter in the coming months that will allow us to comment on the EA."
The Snow's Cut walking and bike trail was installed some years ago by the Town of Carolina Beach and runs from the end of Bridge Barrier Road east through the wooded area between homes on Spencer Farlow Drive and the Snow's Cut waterway.
The trail ends at the Wildlife Boat Ramp on Annie Drive.
Based on the map obtained from Town Hall the fence would run the perimeter of the property causing that trail to be relocated.
During the Council's May 27th, meeting Town Manager Michael Cramer said, "Currently this is just a proposal" and, "Because we had correspondence in email fashion, it did go to the paper and the paper did a story on it basically that this was going to change. They are in the planning process at this point. What their intent is, they would like to change the use on their property - which they can do all by their lonesome - to operational and have an office structure there where they have surveyors for this general area."
He said with that change the Corp's intent is to look at how to secure their entire piece of property.
He said, "If they were to go to an operational component, their requirements state they have to be at a higher level of security than what they are currently at."
Cramer said a portion of the area is already secured with a fence to house a dock for a dredge vessel.
With the installation of a fence around the entire property, a chain link fence with wire across the top, the existing bike path would be relocated to just outside of the fence.
He explained the eroding shoreline along Snow's Cut would be hardened to protect the area in a similar fashion to the rocks located in the existing dock area.
He said, "Yes, that would impact Town residents if they did that. At this point there is probably a dozen or more property owners that back up to that area.  For the most part only four back up to the chain link fence now. The rest of those properties all back up to an open greenway type area. It would definitely impact their view and the alignment of the trail. We have indications that they would talk about doing the alignment of the trail on their own but other than just telling us what their interest is, they haven't really stated to much."
Mayor Dan Wilcox explained, "I have to tell you its really upsetting. We spend all of our time trying to figure out how to provide natural areas and water access and all of that."
He said, "I don't know what we have to do, who is in charge of this, who we have to appeal to, but I would really like to get ahead of this and try to suggest that if they need a little more space
they take a little more space but not block it off all the way to the bridge. I'm sure they're going to hear from the property owners."
Cramer said, "We have very little input into what they do with that. They have to go through an environmental assessment for the property. Which they are anticipating is a three to six month project for them. At that point they would come back to us and tell us what the results were. They don't necessarily have to follow the same types of public communications that we do. We could let property owners know. Send out letters and try and educate property owners. On their behalf we could talk to the Corp and try and find out what exactly they are looking at. Right now it’s very sketchy. They have given us very few details other than it's our property, we want to do this, and this is what we are going to do."
Mayor Wilcox said, "At a minimum we need to find out who to appeal to" and relay that information to the property owners. He expressed concern with an easement the Town obtained to locate the bike path on the Army Corp property some years ago.
Cramer said he had not seen the easement document but anticipated it was a "right to use" rather than an easement that would require the Corp to allow the Town to use the land for the path.
He said the Town needs to research their rights and documentation as well as more specific plans from the Corp.
Wilcox said, "It wouldn't be the first time a government agency's mind was changed if there were substantial concern from the community and people spoke out on it. If this bothers us - it bothers me - if it bothers council collectively, we could get behind it, citizens could get behind it, and perhaps even if there is no process we can create one. Start a movement of sorts."
Wilcox said, "To put up the barb and chain link fence through there is depressing."
Councilman Gary Doetsch said, "It's something we need to be careful about because this is not the only place we partner with the Corp of Engineers."
The Town also works extensively with the Corp to provide beach nourishment and inlet dredging projects including securing federal funding.
Cramer said he would contact Army Corp officials and make further inquiries.
For years the property owners on Spencer Farlow Drive with homes bordering the land have enjoyed access to the wooded area and the banks of Snow's Cut.
The land is owned by the Corp and those homeowners have no actual right to access the land.
Assistant Town Manager Ed Parvin said, "Another issue they've had, if you see the development closest to the bridge, a lot of those folks have gone in and cleared a lot of the property there and that's lead to what they believe some erosion there. That's part of their process to, they would want to secure that" by placing rocks along the banks to prevent further erosion."
Cramer said property owners walk through the land creating trails to access the waterway for fishing. He said some owners have often mowed portions of the land to keep a clear line of sight to the waterway.
Doetsch said the Corp's land in that area is designated as a spoil area. If the Corp of Engineers dredged Snow's Cut in the future, they could place that material on that land.
Council member Sarah Friede said, "I do think if we have owners there that are taking advantage of that open woodland, it is in fact not their property.
I see the Corp's position on that. The owners may not be aware of what the limitations on the trail are. In their mind they are keeping the grass cut to keep down the bugs."
She said, "There may need to be a three way conversation with the owners, the Town and the Corp so that we can all come to some sort of way to live together happily without a seven foot fence with barb wire on top."