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Controversial sand proposal still up in the air for Shackleford Banks

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Erosion is eating away the shoreline of a popular tourist attraction in the East. But a federal agency's proposal to help fix the problem is causing controversy in nearby beach towns.

The Army Corps of Engineers is proposing to dump sand onto the Shackleford Banks. The National Park Service requested the Corps look into the idea to fight back against erosion.

Hundreds came on Wednesday for a public meeting on the subject, many of whom are against the proposal, which would cost up to $12.9 milllion per year for 20 years.

"I think it's bad for Bogue Banks. I think it's bad for Shackleford Banks," said Atlantic Beach mayor Trace Cooper.

Atlantic Beach mayor Trace Cooper says if the Corps starts giving sand to Shackleford, that could mean less sand for beach communities in the Bogue Banks that have received it for years, like Emerald Isle and Atlantic Beach.

And there's another concern.

"I just know when they dredge and dump tons of sand on the island, there is wildlife that's affected," said Emilee Mroz, who is worried the extra sand could bury bird and turtle nests on the island.

National Park Service superintendent of the Cape Lookout National Seashore, Pat Kenney, says he's concerned about that too.

"One of the things we would require is a permit from the Corps, and we could put additional restrictions on to protect wildlife," said Kenney.

Those restrictions could include dumping sand only during the times of the year when turtles don't nest.

The Army Corps of Engineers is willing to give up to 43 percent of the sand dredged from Morehead City to the Shackleford Banks. The other 57 percent would go to Bogue Banks.

9 On Your Side asked the Army Corps whether this could put beachfront homes and businesses on the Bogue Banks at greater risk of being washed away.

"No, I don't think so. We're still replacing everything we've calculated we're losing per given year," said Colonel Stephen Baker, Wilmington district engineer and commander with the Army Corps of Engineers.

But not everyone is convinced.

"The math doesn't add up," said Cooper.

If the National Park Service and the Army Corps of Engineers approve the dredging plan, it will go into effect during the next dredging cycle, which is fall 2015.

Cooper says his group, the Coalition To Protect Our Shores, spent $25,000 raising awareness about the meeting, all of which came from the county's occupancy tax.

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It's a battle over millions of dollars worth of sand.

For years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been dumping sand on Bogue Banks beaches to make up for erosion caused by their Morehead City Dredging Project, covering most of the cost of delivering the sand, Carteret County officials said.

But now the National Park Service wants a piece of that sand for the Shackleford Banks.

"They've never been interested in any of the sand. I don't think they've ever thought about the impacts of beach nourishment on Shackleford Banks. I think it's a bad idea," said Trace Cooper, Atlantic Beach mayor.

The NPS expressed interest in receiving some of the sand in 2011, said Carteret County officials, but the Army Corps of Engineers is still deciding who should get the 1.2 million square yards of sand, and whether and how it should be split. That is enough sand to fill 100,000 dump trucks, said the Corps.

With more than 100 wild horses on the island, Shackleford is one of Carteret County's most popular tourism spots.

"There are bulldozers and big pipes and all kinds of things that may not make sense on Shackleford," said Cooper.

But the Park Service says delivering the sand won't necessarily harm the island's pristine nature.

"The potential is that the island would continue to erode and would be more susceptible to breaches from storms and things like that," said Pat Kenney, Cape Lookout National Seashore Park superintendent.

Kenney says Shackleford needs the sand.

"The rates of erosion are artificially high on the western end of Shackleford," said Kenney. "The dredging of the shipping channel is accelerating erosion on Shackleford Banks."

Jo Anne Corey, a part-time Atlantic Beach resident who has lived in an oceanfront duplex since 2002, says Bogue Banks towns like Atlantic Beach should receive more of the sand because of there are more residents and oceanfront properties than on Shackleford, a wilderness area with no human population.

"I feel sorry for the horses on Shackleford Banks and the tourism, but I really think Atlantic Beach needs the sand," said Corey.

9 On Your Side reached out to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Wilmington to find out how they plan to decide who gets how much sand. But spokesperson Ann Johnson said the Corps' project manager wasn't available for comment.

The Corps is expected to release a draft plan and decide in a few months how to split the sand, after which a public hearing will be held.

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