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As a result of the natural setting plus poor development and management decisions, the town of North Topsail Beach on Topsail Island, North Carolina, is the state's most vulnerable barrier-island community. It is our view that this very narrow, low, and duneless island community is the most hazardous on the U.S. East Coast. Although most of North Topsail Beach was designated a CoBRA unit under the Coastal Barrier Resources Act of 1982, the area has been developed extensively (mostly post-1980), starting with “mom and pop” beach cottages, and evolving into large single-family rental houses, duplexes, and several medium- and high-rise hotels and condos. Over the years, North Topsail Beach has experienced property losses from storm surge, overwash, flooding, inlet migration, new inlet formation, and chronic shoreline erosion. The single evacuation road crosses seven swash channels and is flooded early in every significant storm. A political cauldron has evolved, often featuring the front-row property owners versus those behind the front row, in which this middle-class town seeks to solve its problems. Debate centers on beach erosion problems, including proposed beach nourishment; exemptions to banned shore hardening; and construction of a proposed terminal groin and inlet channel realignment.

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