Jockey’s Ridge a battleground in clash of state commissions

By on January 27, 2024

The battle over Jockey’s Ridge focuses on its Area of Environmental Concern designation. (iStock)

In what one official described as “a very complicated bureaucratic issue,” two state commissions are facing off over the rules that govern CAMA (Coastal Area Management Act) regulations.

One of those disagreements is over the Area of Environmental Concern (AEC) designation for Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Nags Head. On Oct. 5, the Rules Review Commission (RRC) removed the park’s AEC designation, which offers environmental protection to the site. In response, the Coastal Resources Commission (CRC) voted at a Dec. 13 special meeting to institute emergency rules.

If accepted as written, the emergency rules will become temporary rules and will be in place until permanent rules approved by the RRC are in place. The emergency rules are the same as the rules that were in effect before the RRC indicated there were problems with the language of the rules.

As an AEC, Jockey’s Ridge is afforded special protections. Sand that migrates from the dune system, as an example, must be returned to the dune. That is particularly important on the south side of the park where sand often accumulates. The AEC also provides for additional review of any development in adjacent land to ensure that the visual and environmental integrity of Jockey’s Ridge is maintained.

The town of Nags Head sees the loss of the AEC designation for the park as the tip of an iceberg.

“The removal of Jockey’s Ridge and properties in its neighboring communities from the AEC designation may likely be the camel peaking its nose under the tent. Put simply, if the CRC loses its authority to designate an AEC for Jockey’s Ridge, other distinctive areas in Nags Head, such as the oceanfront, the soundfront, Nags Head Woods, or the area near the fresh pond, might also be at risk of losing their AEC protections,” the town wrote in its Jan. 12 newsletter.

On Jan. 26, the nonprofit organization Friends of Jockey’s Ridge also weighed in with a statement declaring that, “The recent decision by the Rules Review Commission to potentially remove this crucial designation poses a significant threat to the environmental integrity and long-term well-being of this unique coastal geologic formation.”

Another contentious RRC decision affects the ability of the Department of Coastal Management (DCM) to share CAMA permitting information with other agencies. CAMA was passed in 1974, and for 50 years, DCM has acted as a one-stop source for coastal permits. The information is shared with other agencies and if no other agency objects, the CAMA permit covers the permits that would otherwise have to be issued by each agency.

“We circulate permit applications to other agencies, like Water Quality, Marine Fisheries, [and the] Wildlife Resources Commission for comments,” Mike Lopazanski, Deputy Director of DCM explained. “If they [other agencies] have particular issues with a project because of impacts in those areas, then it could lead to the project needing to be altered to address those concerns. And that’s how we’ve operated for 50 years.”

Asked by the Voice if the RRC decision means that anyone seeking a CAMA permit would have to go to each of the agencies individually, Lopazanski answered, “That is correct.” That DCM function has been reinstated in the emergency rules.

At the heart of what is happening is something Lopazanski described as “a very complicated bureaucratic issue.”

By law, the CRC oversees CAMA regulations and is required to periodically submit its rules and regulations to the RRC, “to be reevaluated, reviewed, whether they’re still relevant, necessary or unnecessary, or necessary with changes,” said Renee Cahoon, Chair of the CRC.

The CRC and RRC are comprised of political appointees by the governor and legislature. In October, the composition of the RRC was changed to include only appointees of the State Senate and House of Representatives. The governor no longer has appointees on the RRC. There are 13 members of the CRC and 10 RRC members.

According to Cahoon, there were some 30 existing rules that the RRC objected to, but the CRC and RRC had narrowed that number to 16. In October, in the budget bill, the state legislature changed the time period the CRC—and similar agencies—had to reconcile differences with the RRC.

“The legislature changed the Administrative Procedures Act, so that if a rule is with the Rules Review Commission for 60 days, they could unilaterally return it to the agency,” Lopazanski said. “The effect of returning a rule to an agency…removes it from the administrative code,” he added.

The Department of Environmental Quality that oversees DCM, concerned about removing essential regulations for protecting public safety and the environment as well as potentially creating confusion in the permitting process, went to court in November of last year.

Although the CRC and RRC are in legally adversarial positions, there is some cooperation between the commissions, Cahoon noted.

“They [the RRC] actually suggested to us that temporary emergency rules might be an ok mechanism while we’re working through this. So there is an effort to try to work together,” she said.

To State Senator Bobby Hanig, though, this didn’t have to get to court.

“Instead of just fixing it, they figured they would just file a lawsuit and put an injunction on it, and just see where it goes from there, I guess. But it’s politics. It’s strictly politics,” he said.

And even if what is happening is political in nature, from Cahoon’s experience, it is not politics as usual.

“I’ve been there for 20 some years,” she said. “There’s always been discussion with the RRC. They’ve come back at times and we…worked together to make changes that both parties can live with. This is the first time I’ve seen where no matter how many changes we’ve made to try to satisfy them, that has not been enough.”

The emergency rules will be in effect until April 1. There is a comment period on the temporary rules that will replace the emergency rules, and the CRC has extended the public comment period until Feb. 22.

Members of the public may submit written comments on these rules by email to or by US Mail to: Tancred Miller, Director, Division of Coastal Management, 400 Commerce Avenue, Morehead City, NC  28557.



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  • Czarina

    Unbelievable! It wasn’t broke, so it didn’t need to be fixed! Bureaucrats sticking their noses in places they don’t need to be!

    Saturday, Jan 27 @ 1:08 pm
  • Charles

    Sounds as though “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” has become “If it ain’t broke break it”.

    Saturday, Jan 27 @ 3:26 pm
  • obx ron

    When you vote in a majority of Republicans, don’t complain when they put business and money first and the environment dead last.
    Your vote does matter.

    Saturday, Jan 27 @ 6:30 pm
  • MSgt-OBX

    I am sick to death of these BUREAUCRATIC pissing contests and so should every voter. We had a system that had worked for decades and now the party in power wants to break what wasn’t broken.
    I suppose some political hack thinks it expedient to require anyone needing some work done to fill out and submit multiple permit requests rather than the one.
    Good lord, do we need to change some things come November!

    Sunday, Jan 28 @ 6:37 am
  • Jennifer

    I agree with OBX Ron. Apparently, the governor was stripped of his power to make appointments. That power was turned over to a Republican controlled legislature. Since when have Republicans supported anything to do with protecting the environment, despite the fact the Richard Nixon created the EPA? Be careful who you vote for. It matters.

    Sunday, Jan 28 @ 7:21 am
  • Greg

    The majority party in the NC Legislature seeks to take away local choice on many issues. They contend they are of a small government persuasion. They actually are for a government that rubber stamps requests from developers who are irresponsible towards our communities and our environment.

    Sunday, Jan 28 @ 8:27 am
  • Jim

    “The AEC also provides for additional review of any development in adjacent land to ensure that the visual and environmental integrity of Jockey’s Ridge is maintained.”
    It’s pretty obvious what is going on here. The Republican legislature would like to pave the way for developers to have access to Jockey’s ridge and any other similar areas in the OBX. The best government that money can buy. Don’t stand for it.

    Sunday, Jan 28 @ 9:57 am
  • Slimmy

    Yes, vote in Democrats… they seem to be doing great things to the cities they run.

    Sunday, Jan 28 @ 11:26 am
  • Bill

    “If accepted as written, the emergency rules will become temporary rules and will be in place until permanent rules approved by the RRC are in place. The emergency rules are the same as the rules that were in effect before the RRC indicated there were problems with the language of the rules.” Well, OK! Glad that’s settled!!!!!

    Sunday, Jan 28 @ 6:38 pm
  • Shaft

    Either way it’s a lose/lose situation when the Government is allowed to decide. Dems will want it turned into a tent city for Biden’s illegals. Redumbs will want it turned into a mega-hotel to fleece even more tourons. Careful what you wish for.

    Monday, Jan 29 @ 7:16 am
  • Ac

    Notice how Bobby didn’t actually say anything substantial or do anything to help. Just politics from him.

    My grandkids will look forward to swimming in the new jockeys ridge pool!

    Monday, Jan 29 @ 10:09 am
  • Pieinthesky

    Are people forgetting Carolista and 1974, all the hard work. The powers that be need to pay attention.

    Monday, Jan 29 @ 10:38 am
  • Hannah Bunn West

    Great reporting Kip 👏🏻 We need to peel back the layers and examine any group trying to strip away environmental protections and your article has done just that. Jockey’s Ridge is an ecological rarity and it’s protection was hard fought and hard won in the 1970s, “for all the people” as Carolista said. I encourage everyone to submit their public comment. This is an unintentional plug, but if anyone is interested in the important history of Jockey’s Ridge, you can read all about it in Chapter 5 of my book, Remarkable Women of the Outer Banks.

    Monday, Jan 29 @ 5:39 pm
  • Sandflea

    @ Slimy;
    You stated: “
    “Yes, vote in Democrats… they seem to be doing great things to the cities they run”

    Actually they are. Almost every crime metric is down. Use your Google machine to check it out. Most of the cities that I’m sure you’re alluding to are in blue states. Most every blue state is a “donor state” that contribute to “welfare states” that are almost exclusively red states. In addition to that, they are also the least educated and the poorest of all the states. Maybe we should make a law that says a state can’t receive any more money than they put in to the pool. Mine of my favorite sayings is “Vote Rich, Live Poor”.

    Tuesday, Jan 30 @ 9:53 am
  • Obxserver

    “On Oct. 5, the Rules Review Commission (RRC) removed the park’s AEC designation, which offers environmental protection to the site. In response, the Coastal Resources Commission (CRC) voted at a Dec. 13 special meeting to institute emergency rules.”

    My understanding is that the suspension of these rules and therefore the suspension of the AEC designation for Jockeys Ridge was inserted or added to the proposed budget by the legislative majority and thereby more or less secretly avoiding the public legislative law making process. As a result this isn’t necessarily as much of an argument about the wording or structure of the individual rules as it is about rules, regulations, and laws in place for decades simply being privately or secretly wiped out. The article seems to describe attempts to come to some sort of agreement to get the laws, rules, or regulations restored. There’s no discussion about the extra-legal secret process by which they were removed in the first place.

    Tuesday, Jan 30 @ 3:07 pm
  • Joe David Friday Jr

    It sounds like the revisions to longstanding practices have only come about after appointees from the governor’s office were supplanted by those of the Legislature. That smells like rotten fish where the big-money land developers now have an inside track via paying their senators and representatives to change the rules to make development easier. No need to protect the fragility of the Outer Banks when the carpetbaggers can make lots of money.

    Saturday, Feb 3 @ 9:24 am