Oregon Inlet Jetty Project:

Environmental and Economic Concerns Need to Be Resolved

GAO-02-803: Published: Sep 30, 2002. Publicly Released: Oct 4, 2002.

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Oregon Inlet is the primary route to the ocean for hundreds of commercial and recreational fishing vessels operating in the Outer Banks region of North Carolina. However, the inlet experiences more high winds, strong tides, and shifting sand than any other inlet on the coast of the United States. This high-energy environment often creates sand bars and large breaking waves at the inlet's entrance to the ocean, commonly known as the ocean bar. These conditions, especially when combined with the severe storms that frequent the area, can swamp a boat or run it aground, imperiling both life and property. During the past 19 years, the Army Corps of Engineers has had difficulty maintaining the ocean bar navigation channel at Oregon Inlet at its authorized 14-foot depth. Specifically, from 1983 through 1994, the Corps spent on average $4.1 million per year dredging the channel, but was only able to maintain the authorized 14-foot depth on average 23 percent of the time. After 1994, the Corps spent an average of $2 million per year, but the percentage of time the channel depth was maintained at its authorized depth declined to 15 percent. The Corps' most recent economic analysis of the proposed Oregon Inlet jetty project, issued in 2001, has several limitations, and as a result, does not provide a reliable basis for deciding whether to proceed with the project. Of the eight completed jetty projects constructed similarly to the proposed Oregon Inlet jetty project, two are generally performing as planned. Of the six other similar projects, three have required more dredging and higher maintenance costs than expected, and two have had their weirs closed. In designing the proposed Oregon Inlet jetty project, the Corps' Wilmington District Office applied lessons learned from the construction of similar jetty projects and from internal Corps guidance. Both the Department of Commerce and the Department of the Interior support the goal of providing a safe navigation channel through Oregon Inlet for commercial and recreational fishing vessels. However, both departments support a dredging-only approach to achieve that goal in an environmentally acceptable manner.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: Lacking resolution of environmental concerns from the Council on Environmental Quality and construction permits from the Department of the Interior, GAO agrees with the Corps that it should not pursue further development of the Oregon Inlet jetty project. However, if the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) favorably resolves the environmental issues regarding the proposed jetty project and the Corps receives assurance that it can obtain the permits from Interior that it needs to build the project, in order to have a reliable basis for determining whether the project is economically justified, the Secretary of the Army should direct the Corps of Engineers to prepare a new and comprehensive economic analysis of the navigation project's costs and benefits that incorporates updated and complete data and corrects all errors in calculations and assumptions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Corps, CEQ, and the Departments of Interior and Commerce reached mutual agreement on May 1, 2003, not to proceed with the proposed Oregon Inlet project. This alternative action satisfies GAO's recommendation.

    Recommendation: Lacking resolution of environmental concerns from the Council on Environmental Quality and construction permits from Interior, GAO agrees with the Corps that it should not pursue further development of the Oregon Inlet jetty project. However, if CEQ favorably resolves the environmental issues regarding the proposed jetty project and the Corps receives assurance that it can obtain the permits from Interior that it needs to build the project, in order to have a reliable basis for determining whether the project is economically justified, the Secretary of the Army should direct the Corps to obtain the information, where possible, that is needed to address the uncertainties--such as the extent to which the jetty project could affect the activities of all commercial vessels to the extent to which areas outside the ocean bar navigation channel could require dredging--that could significantly affect project benefits and costs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Corps, the CEQ, and the Interior and Commerce Departments reached mutual agreement on May 1, 2003, not to proceed with the proposed Oregon Inlet jetty project. The alternative action taken satisfies GAO's recommendation.

    Recommendation: Lacking resolution of environmental concerns from the Council on Environmental Quality and construction permits from Interior, GAO agrees with the Corps that it should not pursue further development of the Oregon Inlet jetty project. However, if the CEQ favorably resolves the environmental issues regarding the proposed jetty project and the Corps receives assurance that it can obtain the permits from Interior that it needs to build the project, in order to have a reliable basis for determining whether the project is economically justified, the Secretary of the Army should direct the Corps to submit the revised analysis to the Congress for its use in considering future appropriations requests for the project.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Corps, CEQ, and the Departments of Interior and Commerce reached mutual agreement on May 1, 2003, not to proceed with the proposed Oregon Inlet project. This alternative action satisfies GAO's recommendation.

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