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

About Me

Hi. My name is Steve Yoon and, I’m a junior majoring in Environmental Science Quantitative Track and minoring in GIS. I’m not sure what I want to do in the future but I’ve always enjoyed planning and, after taking ENEC 350 with Dr. Hornstein, I’ve been semi-interested in environmental law. So here I am at the Town of Nags Head Planning Department.

My Project

A living shoreline is a type of green infrastructure that uses natural materials such as vegetation or oysters with sills to stabilize the shoreline from erosion and protect properties from storms. Currently, the living shoreline project for the Town of Nags Head is in the initial planning process; Anna and my project were to create a toolkit of legal barriers that might prevent the implementation of living shoreline along the estuarine sound side.

Nags Head sign from Ireland that hangs in our office.

Quick Disclaimer: If you want the legal details of implementing the living shoreline, you should go read Anna’s blog “Interning at the Town of Nags Head Planning Department (a legal perspective).”

Why do we plan? Because we want to make sure rights of property owners is respected and to avoid any hostility or possible litigation. Planning before implementing the living shoreline is especially important in Nags Head because private property owners own the sound property up to the mean high-water line and, you DON’T want to mess with their property and riparian rights. “Eminent domain” or “no kayak launch” are fight words no one wants to engage in.

But perhaps the more important reason for planning is because you don’t want to spend millions of dollars to fail. Imagine this. Every property owner along the sound loves the idea of a living shoreline for its erosion protection. The Town gladly comes in and builds the living shoreline. Hooray! But the wind is too strong so your plants are being smothered by sediments and you’re wondering why you didn’t do any wind studies as recommended and soon a hurricane comes and rips the entire living shoreline up and you don’t know what to do because you didn’t earmark any money or time or resource for maintenance and reconstruction and now everyone is protecting their properties with bulkheads instead and your living shoreline is now a shoreline to nothing. From a planning perspective, this happened because the Town viewed the living shoreline as a project and not an infrastructure. Just like how our roads and wastewater system are maintained, the living shoreline must be maintained for and planned as infrastructure. Only then can the Town accomplish their vision of what they want their community to look like: a thriving coastal town with a healthy shoreline.

This insight is a result of the multiple interviews we had conducted with town planners and coastal experts. We compiled our interview findings with our own research to create a HUGE toolkit that will help launch the living shoreline project in Nags Head.

My Experiences

Interviewing Erin Fleckenstein

One of my favorite interviews was with Erin Fleckenstein, a costal scientist and regional manager at the NC Coastal Federation. She had plenty of experience with living shorelines and, a lot of knowledge regarding the permitting process of the living shoreline. This was interesting because when I think of planning, I don’t necessary think of the permitting process and just how complicated yet essential it can be. We also entertained the idea of a living shoreline possibly acting as a wetland mitigation bank which, hopefully, will encourage more living shoreline.

Webinar of water quality management

Not everything was about the living shoreline. Holly White, my mentor and Principal Planner at the Town of Nags Head, knew I was interested in storm resilient and stormwater planning. So, Holly would often send me webinars and training related to planning that I can listen to and enjoy whenever I want to. The most memorable webinar was the First Annual Water Adaptations to Ensure Regional Success Summit, hosted by Republican Congressmen Murphy. This had sparked my interest because… well… climate change, water, and Republican never seemed to fit well in one room. It was very interesting. They had invited multiple environmental and climate experts to educate what is happening with our water including Dr. Paerl, the author of the journal that I was preparing a presentation for! It was an energizing moment that made me super passionate about hypoxia (10/10 recommend this paper for Lindsay’s ecology class. It’s super interesting and you get to talk about hurricanes and how it kills fish. I also recommend Kirwan and Megonigal).

Trip to Nags Head Woods

We went to Nags Head Woods with Holly, Kate, and the consultants to see the marsh shoreline. It was a fun day of lunch, fieldtrip, and meeting experts who gave us life advice on what we should do post-college. Never pay for gradschool or PhD. They should be funded. Then, Anna kept testing me on tree species even though she knew that I’m not very observant and I can’t differentiate trees. Sigh.

Finishing the Toolkit

Oh my God. Today was the day Anna and I wanted to finish our toolkit and we, uh, she, uh, wow, uh, it was amazing. I’ve never been so productive in my life. I worked hard from 9-11:45AM. Then I ate. Then I worked hard again from 1PM to 6:37PM. We

Last day as Interns at the Town of Nags Head

usually get off at 5PM but Anna inspired me to work harder and harder until we met our goal. It was very dark outside and it was the first time we had to turn on our lights. The reason why I mention my last day is because I felt a surge of thankfulness as Anna and I fixed our final element of the toolkit. I was thankful for everyone who was excited to meet us for our interviews because they allowed us to pick their brains for valuable information. I was thankful to Holly and Kate, our mentors, for being so kind and simply wanting the best for our future planning and legal career. I was thankful to Anna for being an amazing partner who made this internship just the best. Living Shoreline! You better thank Anna and I once you’re planted along the Town of Nags Head!

 

Super dark outside when we finished our toolkit. If you look closely, you can see Anna’s head.

 

 

Favorite Moments

Our trip to Duck where I got to try donuts on a stick. I love the Outer Banks.

DONUT ON A STICK. But not really on a stick? Well sort of. It’s on a stick in a cup.

 

I also loved our trip to the beach during our break. They were great moments to clear our head from all the screen time we had.

Anna chasing sea foam during our beach break.

Takeaways

My internship with the planning department of the Town of Nags Head was perfect. I enjoyed all the interviews we conducted, all the new people I met, and all the chats and jokes Anna, our mentors, and I shared throughout our time together. Local planners are the most hardworking and most underappreciated people of all times. They’re the cornerstone to a healthy and vibrant community and I’m proud to have been a part of it.

Holly, Kate, Anna. If you are reading this I want to say that I am thankful for the amazing time you all have gifted me with during our time together. I will take this experience to become a great planner for the communities that I will one day serve. I will always pray for your health and wellbeing.

Future OBXFS students, if you like a super chill workplace, snacks and home baked pastries, great people, and working a job that makes change in the community I recommend interning with the Town of Nags Head.

P.S. Also, be on the watch out for our debut podcast coming to you soon!

 

  • Steve Yoon, OBXFS 2021
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