Who owns the beach?
A case pending in Currituck County Superior Court may answer that question. In 1998,
several individual property owners in the Whalehead Club Subdivision near Corolla filed a
lawsuit that, in part, challenges the right of the public to use the dry-sand beach -- the
area between the wet sand and the dune line. The case is Giampa, et al v. Currituck
County, et al (98 CVS 153). The oceanfront property owners, all nonresidents, seek to
quiet title to the dry-sand beach in themselves to the exclusion of the public. The
lawsuit also asks the court to restrict the use of beach access dune crossovers in the
subdivision to residents of Whalehead Club and their guests, although the accessways were
improved with state and county funds as much as 10 years ago. The Giampa case is the first
case in North Carolina to directly challenge the public's right to use the dry-sand beach
for recreational purposes.
The state's position is that although state ownership ends at the mean high water line,
the public has always enjoyed the right to use the full width and breadth of the state's
ocean beaches seaward of the dune line, under the common law theories of customary use
since "time immemorial," the public trust doctrine, implied dedication, or
alternatively, prescriptive use.
Therefore, the state will be asking the court to declare that the public is legally
entitled to use the entire beach between the ocean and the vegetation or dune line.
You can find out more about the issue of public use of the dry-sand beach by reading
the following documents:
"Private Title, Public Use: Property Rights in North
Carolina's Dry-Sand Beach," a master's thesis (156K) by Christopher City, who
recently completed a joint law and planning degree at the University of North Carolina at
the Beach? Drawing a Line in the Sand to Determine Shoreline Property Boundaries in the
United States and the Resulting Conflict Between Public and Private Interests"
by Jean Campbell (633K), published by the William S.
Richardson School of Law at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
"The Changing Face of the
Shoreline: Public and Private Rights to the Natural and Nourished Dry Sand Beaches of
North Carolina" by Joseph J. Kalo (3.78MB), published in the September 2000 North
Carolina Law Review.
Note: These papers are in PDF format and require Adobe Acrobat Reader to download.
If you do not have Acrobat Reader, you can download it free from Adobe's Web site.