CRC to Finally Get Down to Work

Gorham Plans to ‘Reach Out’ as New CRC Chairman

We asked Frank Gorham to respond to written questions about his role as the new chairman of the N.C. Coastal Resources Commission. Below are his largely unedited responses. The only changes we made were to adhere to Coastal Review Online style. We deleted one paragraph because of length.

What do you as Chair see as the top priorities for the CRC in the coming months?

My impressions to date are that we have an excellent staff at the DCM and the quality of CRC members is outstanding. Our first priorities are to get to know each other and become familiar with the basic issues. Braxton (Davis, DCM director) and his staff are giving us detailed briefings on the priority issues. Additionally, I have asked each CRC commissioner to determine their top issues and what goals they have for the Commission. My goal as chair is to jointly develop a priority list and action plan with my fellow commissioners within the next several months

I also believe it is very important to reach out to all groups who have a genuine interest in protecting our coasts. My job is to create a climate where people who have a technical expertise or a passion to protect our environment have an open dialog with both myself and the other commissioners. The first step is to treat people with respect. It is OK to have different policy objectives but we must still learn to respect each other regardless of their differing opinions. I have started this process

One of my personal policy goals is to develop a broad inlet management plan for our coastal communities

What will guide your thinking as you look ahead at the work of the commission and setting future priorities?

My family and I have been very blessed in having a beach property for many years. Before that we spent almost 20 years visiting the beaches of Nags Head. In my business, we were moved all over the country. The one constant we had in our family was the love of the North Carolina beaches. My main goal is to be able to pass on to my future generations a coastal community that is even more protected and beautiful than what we have experienced. If I could be part of an effort that preserved our coasts for all to enjoy, then I would be proud of my contribution.

How do you anticipate your connection to the Rich Inlet project will influence what you can do as a board member?

When I was asked to serve on the CRC, I disclosed that I (1) owned coastal property; (2) was the current president of the Figure Eight Homeowner Association and (3) our association was considering the possibility of seeking a future permit for a terminal groin to help stabilize Rich Inlet. No decision on this will be made by our HOA until the Corp of Engineers completes their EIS

Both the Ethics Commission and the governor’s office determined that I had no conflict of interest other than to fully disclose my involvement in the above. I will always continue to make this disclosure

If Figure Eight submits a permit request for a terminal groin and it is turned down by the DCM, the association could consider to seek a variance from the CRC. I will immediately notify all CRC members and the staff that I will not participate in any hearings, etc. involved in a variance request.

I do not have a conflict to participate in policy discussions regarding the use of terminal groins or any other inlet or coastal management program. The legislature already has determined these are allowed solutions. I am proud of my knowledge and experience regarding inlet and beach management issues.

After a legislature-mandated shakeup that reduced its numbers and replaced roughly two-thirds of its membership, a newly-reconstituted N.C. Coastal Resources Commission starts work this week.

The new 13-member commission will have its first two-day meeting starting Wednesday at the Hilton Double Tree Inn in Atlantic Beach.

When it meets, the CRC will be at full-strength after two new members were added last week when N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis made his appointments. Tillis appointed John Snipes II of Atlantic Beach and re-appointed former CRC member Larry Baldwin of Harkers Island.

They join two members appointed in July by N.C. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and five appointed in October by Gov. Pat McCrory, who also named Frank Gorham of Wilmington the commission’s new chairman.

Four other members — vice-chair Renee Cahoon of  Nags Head, Lee Wynns of Colerain, Ben Simmons of Fairfield and former chair Bob Emory of New Bern — are holdovers from the previous 15-member commission. Their seats were preserved as part of a compromise worked out between House and Senate negotiators last summer after coastal legislators in the House pushed for more of a transition than a Senate’s proposal, which would have ended the terms of all members. The legislation was part of the state budget with the CRC provisions taking effect on Aug. 1.

Since then, except for an emergency session to meet a court-ordered deadline in a case on a sandbag variance, the CRC has been unable to meet while each prospective member was reviewed by the N.C. State Ethic Commission for potential conflicts of interest.

Michele Walker, spokeswoman for the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said in the past it’s been common to brief new members individually since there were often only one or two joining the board at a time. But with such a large group coming in, Walker said, most of Wednesday’s meeting will be devoted to briefing members about permitting, rule development and CAMA procedures.

“We’re doing a lot of commissioner orientation this meeting,” she said.

But that doesn’t mean a complete pause. With several reports due to the legislature on the immediate horizon and a backlog of variance reviews while meetings were delayed, the CRC has a stacked agenda in the year ahead.

The commission is scheduled to review work Wednesday on the Cape Fear River Area of Environmental Concern Feasibility Study. A report on the AEC is due to the legislature on Dec. 31.

AECs are the foundation of the CRC’s permitting program for development. An AEC is an area of natural importance that may be susceptible to erosion or flooding; or it may have environmental, social, economic or aesthetic values that make it valuable to the state. The CRC classifies areas as AECs to protect them from incompatible development, which may cause irreversible damage to property, public health or the environment. AECs cover almost all coastal waters and about three percent of the land in the 20 coastal counties, according to the N.C. Division of Coastal Management.

Walker said Gorham also intends to open a discussion to get a sense of members’ views of the work of the CRC and its future, including specific topics they’d like to see addressed.

The appointment of the Coastal Resources Advisory Council, a new authority given to CRC by the legislature, won’t likely take place until the first part of 2014, Walker said, after the board receives input from local governments.

Meet the New CRC Members

Two new CRC members lead organizations that are involved in two of the four terminal groin projects currently preparing permit applications. Chairman Frank Gorham is the president and director of the Figure 8 Beach Homeowners Association, which is backing efforts to build a terminal groin at Rich Inlet. Suzanne Dorsey is the executive director of Bald Head Island Conservancy,which has backed Bald Head’s effort to build a terminal groin at the convergence of the island’s South and West beaches.

Both were advised by the ethics commission to “exercise appropriate caution” when the organizations are involved in matters before the CRC.

Evaluations from the N.C. State Ethics Commission noted that all incoming CRC members have either real estate holdings, business interests or serve on the boards of organizations that could benefit from commission decisions. Such findings are not atypical considering nominees are chosen because of their coastal connections and areas of expertise.

Also of note is Larry Baldwin’s reappointment, which means the CRC will continue to have a representative of NC-20, an economic development group which has been critical of the CRC’s work regarding sea-level rise and has waded into legislative debates on climate change, flood insurance and environmental regulations. Baldwin, vice president of the group, was first appointed by Gov. Bev Perdue.

The new group has also added two more local government office holders. Harry Simmons, mayor of Caswell Beach, and Greg Lewis, chairman of the Carteret County Board of Commissioners, join Renee Cahoon, a Nags Head commissioner.

Here are the seven new member of the commission:

  • Neal W. Andrew of New Hanover County— Andrew was appointed by Gov. Pat McCrory to fill the seat reserved for coastal engineering or marine science. A Wilmington resident, he is president of Andrew Consulting Engineers and serves on several boards, including

    Neal Andrew

    Greg Lewis, the N.C. Coastal Reserve, Masonboro Island Local Advisory Committee and the New Hanover County Port, Waterway and Beach Commission.

  • Suzanne Dorsey of Brunswick County — Dorsey was appointed by McCrory to fill the seat reserved for coastal-related business. She is the executive director of the Bald Head Island Conservancy. She is also secretary of Brock Ventures, a real- estate development company run by her husband, Stephen Brock.

  • Frank Gorham III of New Hanover County
    — Gorham was appointed as chair by McCrory and holds one of the seats reserved for a coastal property owner. He is president of Sandstone Properties LLC, an oil and gas investment business. He is also director and president of the Figure 8 Beach Homeowners Association.
  • Jerry M. Hairston of Onslow County — Hairston is one of two appointees by N.C. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger. Hairston lives in Sneads Ferry where he owns and operates Bad Habit Sportfishing and Pro Auto Consultants. He is a former salesman at National Dodge, Chrysler and Jeep in Jacksonville. Harry Brown, the Senate majority leader, owns the dealership.
  • Gregory Lewis of Carteret County — Lewis is another of McCrory’s appointments, filling the seat reserved for coastal property owners. He is a self-employed management consultant and accountant and chairman of the Carteret County Board of Commissioners.
  • Harry Q. Simmons of Brunswick County — Simmons, who has served as mayor of Caswell Beach for 11 years, is also a Berger appointee. He is a former member of the Coastal Resources Advisory Council and owner of Simmons Coastal Inc., a consulting firm on coastal issues for governments, businesses and individuals. Simmons now also serving in his third term as president of American Shore & Beach Preservation Association and is also contracted as executive director of North Carolina Beach, Inlet & Waterway Association.
  • John D. Snipes II of Carteret County — Snipes, who owns and operates an insurance agency in Atlantic Beach, is one of two recent Tillis appointments.
About the Author

Kirk Ross

Kirk Ross is a longtime North Carolina journalist based in the Triangle. In addition to Coastal Review Online, he covers the legislature and state government for Carolina Public Press and The Washington Post. He can be reached at