Please view News Articles: "California Attorney Seeking to Limit Public Use of NC Beaches Misleads the Public; His Comments to the Court Reveal True Issues in Case” and "Guest Column by Nies Attorney – August 10, 2016 Carteret County News-Times – Nies v Emerald Isle”
The case of Nies v. Emerald Isle will be considered by the NC Supreme Court later this year, and the Court's decision could have a profound impact on the public's use of beaches everywhere in North Carolina in the future.
The ultimate question in this case is whether the public has a right to use the dry-sand beach in North Carolina. As argued by the Town's attorneys (the Town's brief can be viewed at http://www.emeraldisle-nc.org/Data/Sites/1/media/pdfs/legal/town-brief---nies---nc-supreme-court.pdf ), the Plaintiffs contend the public does not have the right to use the dry-sand beach adjacent to their beach house. Plaintiffs claim that the public is only entitled to use the wet-sand beach. No North Carolina Court has ever held that an oceanfront property owner has the right to exclude the public from the dry sand beach. If all North Carolina oceanfront property owners took Plaintiffs' position, the dry-sand beaches of North Carolina would be effectively closed to the public. This would make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the public to enjoy the beach for traditional recreational activities that have occurred on the beach for centuries.
The Town maintains that NC law clearly allows the public to use the entire flat, dry-sand beach area up to the base of the dunes. The entire 300+ miles of North Carolina's beaches, in all 8 oceanfront counties and all 21 oceanfront municipalities, have been used by the public and managed with this understanding for centuries. The NC Superior Court and the NC Court of Appeals have both already ruled in the Town's favor, upholding the long-established and universally-accepted policy and law in North Carolina that the public has the right to use the beach from the base of the dunes to the water. The NC Supreme Court will now consider this case, and they will make the definitive ruling on this issue.
The Town of Emerald Isle is committed to the principle of public beach access, and has been fighting diligently since this case was initiated in 2011 to defend the public's right to use the entire beach --- wet-sand and dry-sand, between the base of the dunes and the water. The Town is committed to public beach access in all forms, for enjoyment by all people, for various recreational pursuits. The Town recognizes that different people enjoy different recreational activities on North Carolina beaches, including sunbathing, swimming, surfing, surf fishing, walking, running, driving, playing volleyball / bocce ball / cornhole / other beach games, flying kites, observing wildlife, and so on and so on. All of these activities rely to some degree on the public's use of the flat, dry-sand beach, and simply cannot occur solely from the wet-sand beach. If the NC Supreme Court overturns the NC Court of Appeals ruling, all of these activities are in jeopardy. The Town also recognizes the paramount importance of unhindered beach access in order to provide critical water rescue and emergency medical assistance when called upon, and the need for reasonable regulations on the beach strand to protect the health, safety, and welfare of everyone on the beach.
An adverse ruling in this case would have a devastating impact on all coastal communities and the State as a whole. If the public is no longer entitled to use the dry-sand beach, how desirable is it for a vacationer to rent a 2nd row home or another interior home? What does that do the North Carolina tourism economy? What impact does that have on our restaurants and shops that rely on millions of annual visitors to our beaches? What impact does that have on all NC coastal property values and the coastal real estate market? Where will people who live in mainland Carteret County or mainland New Hanover County, etc. enjoy the beach experience --- is that not why many people on the mainland choose to live in relative close proximity to the beach? What kind of message will it send to the rest of the country as those families are planning their future beach vacations, second home purchase, or retirement destination - will it create a perception that "North Carolina's beaches are private, so we don't want to be there"?
Beyond the drastic economic impacts, what about the ability of our dedicated volunteers to relocate sea turtle nests that require a dry-sand beach in order to hatch successfully? What about the need for emergency services personnel to travel safely and quickly along the beach strand to rescue those in need? What about the ability for other personnel to remove debris and keep the beach clean and beautiful for all to enjoy? What about aging and disabled individuals who no longer have the ability to walk on the beach, and need to use a vehicle to access the beach and enjoy the amazing beach experience in the fall and winter months? What about the thousands of surf fishermen who treasure the opportunity to "land the big one" from the beach strand? It is human nature to focus first on our own personal form of enjoyment of the beach, but the reality is that everyone's ability to enjoy the beach is what makes the beach experience so special for North Carolinians and the millions of visitors who choose to spend their time and money in North Carolina each year.
The entire North Carolina beach experience is at stake in this case, and the NC Supreme Court's decision could impact all of us in the future. The Town of Emerald Isle, our legal team, State government, other coastal local governments, and many other groups are fighting hard to preserve the public's right to use the beach in North Carolina for current and future generations, in the same way that prior generations have before us.
To view the NC Court of Appeals ruling, the Town's brief submitted to the NC Supreme Court earlier this week, and several amicus briefs submitted in support of the Town's position, please visit http://www.emeraldisle-nc.org/legal-briefs-%E2%80%93-nies-v-emerald-isle- .