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NC Senate votes to protect Jockey's Ridge amid regulatory dispute

State lawmakers want to protect the largest sand dunes on the East Coast at Jockey's Ridge in Nags Head.
Courtesy of NC State Parks
State lawmakers want to protect the largest sand dunes on the East Coast at Jockey's Ridge in Nags Head.

The state Senate passed a bill Thursday designed to protect Jockey's Ridge on the Outer Banks from damaging development projects.

Lawmakers want to settle a dispute between two regulatory boards over renewing protections for the site. Located in Nags Head, Jockey's Ridge is the largest active sand dune on the east coast and it's home to a state park.

The Senate bill designates the surrounding land as an area of environmental concern. It includes restrictions on the removal of sand from the site in any future construction projects.

Sen. Bobby Hanig, R-Currituck, proposed the measure. "This puts protections on Jockey's Ridge in statute to assure the citizens of North Carolina that Jockey's Ridge will be protected forever," Hanig said.

Most of those protections have been in place before, but they haven't been renewed because of a dispute between the state's Coastal Resources Commission and the Rules Review Commission. The Coastal Resources Commission has approved updated regulations for the site, but the Rules Review Commission questions whether the new version is too vague and might not have adequate backing in state law, N.C. Tribune reported recently.

Sen. Mike Woodard, D-Durham, said those commissions are failing to do their jobs.

"We should not be making rules like this," he said. "We set up rulemaking functions in our state government, and we need to insist that they do their job. We need to hold our rulemaking functions accountable, or we need to get out of the business and decide that we're going to be a full-time legislature and make rules."

The bill now goes to the House for a final vote. A previous version of the bill, which includes other environmental provisions, passed the House last year but without the section addressing Jockey's Ridge.

Colin Campbell covers politics for WUNC as the station's capitol bureau chief.