Interning at the Town of Nags Head Planning Department (a legal perspective)

About Me

I am a sophomore and an Environmental Studies major with a History minor. I would like to continue on to Law School and wanted an internship that exposed me to legal issues. I have also considered getting a Master’s in Public Administration at UNC, so interning with local government was complimentary to this.

My Project

Nags Head

Steve and I shared an internship and a project. We were tasked with making a comprehensive toolkit for the Town’s upcoming living shoreline project; this included a legal and literature review, conducting interviews, and exploring possible grant opportunities. The goal of a living shoreline is to stabilize and protect the coast using natural materials. Often, the project goal is to restore native vegetation along the coastline. Vegetation helps stabilize the shoreline by securing sediments with their roots. This stabilization is vital in protecting the coast from erosion, which was the primary concern of the Town. Other benefits of living shorelines are increased carbon storage, improved water quality, providing habitat for wildlife, and buffering flooding and storm surges. In this case, the proposed living shoreline is to be implemented on the estuarine side of Nags Head. The Town had received a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, enabling the Town to hire a consultant. While the consultant was going to concentrate on the ecology of the living shoreline, Steve and I tried to contribute to the project by examining possible obstacles. A majority of the estuarine side is comprised of private property, meaning the Town needed permission to access this area and to construct the living shoreline. Permission for the construction and maintenance of the living shoreline could be obtained through easements. Easements are a legal agreement giving another party permission to use the property owner’s land in a way that they would not otherwise have the right to do. Obtaining an easement requires knowledge of stakeholder perception regarding the project. Through interviews with nearby towns (Kitty Hawk and Duck) that had completed a similar living shoreline project, Steve and I gained a better understanding of public opinion. We also conducted interviews with legal professionals to gain better insight into what rights the Town had as well as what the easements would need to express. We did the same with grants, getting people with plenty of experience to give us insight. Steve and I compiled all the information we had gathered doing research and interviewing people and formatted it into an interactive toolkit. The Town and consultant will use this toolkit as they formalize plans for the living shoreline. 

My Experiences

Interviewing Law professors: Joe Kalo and Donald Hornstein

For a wanna-be lawyer, speaking with lawyers as well respected and experienced as Joe Kalo and Donald Hornstein was a dream come true. Joe Kalo is a former professor at UNC-CH and is cited in numerous publications. Joe was super fun to talk to, especially about property law and riparian rights. Our law and policy class this semester, taught by another outstanding lawyer, Lee Leidy, had prepared us well for our talk with Joe. He knew case law and asked great questions that made us think about our understanding of riparian rights. Donald Hornstein is a current professor at UNC-CH who specializes in insurance law. Dr. Hornstein again asked great questions and talked with us about easements. He brought up concerns that property owners might have as well as concerns the Town might have. I look forward to taking his ENEC 350 class next semester. I loved getting to talk with practicing lawyers and see if my interpretations were consistent with theirs. 

Speaking with Joe Heard of the Town of Duck

This is Duck’s Boardwalk, and the marsh used to be in line with it. Erosion has brought the marsh behind the boardwalk.

Getting to speak with Joe Heard from the Town of Duck was a treat. Duck is such a cute town that is very walkable. This is in part to their boardwalk, which Nags Head is also considering implementing. Duck had completed their planning process for a living shoreline project and received numerous grants to get the project started. Joe was instrumental in articulating how a project like this comes to fruition. He was so nice and eager to help; it was great getting to know him.

Going out into the field with Kate 

Kate is the environmental planner at the Town and my mentor! Part of her job is to monitor stormwater quality and implement regulations. Kate took Steve and me to a water quality test site, where we got to help collect the water sample and bottle it for the lab. We also got to do a site visit with her at a proposed construction site. We noticed that the house next to the site had flattened its swales, otherwise known as dunes. Steve and I loved witnessing the finding of a violation firsthand.

View during the drive home

Favorite Moments

Steve brought boiled potatoes and mayonnaise for lunch, and everyone thought he was malnourished; he is not. My next favorite was people bringing their dogs into the office.

I dropped an entire new box of snacks


We met Josie and Bo, both of whom were super sweet. During our breaks, Steve and I would go for walks along the beach right across from town hall. It was nice to be outside and watch Steve chase birds. After a long day of work, I would roll down the windows and blare music on the drive back to the guest house. Blaring Adele, Beyonce, and Taylor Swift was a cathartic experience; Steve was vibing.


Steve chasing birds on a beach walk


My time at the Nags Head Planning Department allowed me to make valuable connections. I really enjoyed all of the interviews we did, getting to know such amazing people. I also got to see what it takes to run a local government. Everyone at the Town was so kind and willing to work with us. Working within local government is an underpaid and understaffed endeavor. The people that dedicate their time to improving the lives of the residents are so special and are often not thanked for their efforts or underappreciated. I want to call attention to some of these people: Kate Jones, Holly White, Kelley Wyatt, Kylie Shepard, Margaux Kerr, Lily Campos Nieberding, Ed Snyder, Steve Szymanski, Cory Tate, Kim Thompson, Shannon Krzyzanowski, Bobbisue Louvros, Andy Garman. These are just a handful of people I had the privilege to interact with during my time with the Town. I had a lot of fun this semester and value the experience I gained.