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Back You are here: Home News Local and State News Local State, Federal Officials Sign Long-term Dredging Agreement To Keep Inlets Open

State, Federal Officials Sign Long-term Dredging Agreement To Keep Inlets Open

Photo: U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.

By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
Managing Editor

RALEIGH, N.C. - According to the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources in release issued December 10th, "State and federal officials have finalized an agreement to again allow dredging in North Carolina’s coastal waters so fishing and transportation vessels can more easily move through shallow inlets and channels."
“This agreement is critical to keeping our shallow-draft navigation channels navigable,” said Tom Reeder, director of the N.C. Division of Water Resources. “Our state is heavily dependent upon these channels for the operation of our commercial and charter fishing fleets, N.C. Department of Transportation ferries and recreational boat traffic. The continued maintenance of these channels is vital to North Carolina’s coastal economy.”
According to the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NCDENR), "The agreement between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources for the continued maintenance dredging of North Carolina’s federally authorized shallow-draft inlets and channels was finalized in mid-November. It runs through September 2017. Due to reductions in federal funds during the last several years, the state’s shallow-draft navigation channels have not been maintained to authorized depths and dimensions. In March 2012, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources started developing a long-term memorandum of agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to remedy the problem."
“Maintaining the navigability of the shallow-draft inlets allows the state’s commercial, charter and recreational fishing fleet the access it requires to the Atlantic Ocean,” said Stephen Baker, colonel of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Wilmington district. “Maintaining the federal channels used by the state’s ferry vessels allows those vessels to continue predictable operations, particularly to those islands of Ocracoke and Hatteras, for which the ferries serve as a major artery for emergency response, services and commerce.”
According to NCDENR, in support of the agreement, the North Carolina General Assembly created the Shallow Draft Navigation Channel and Lake Dredging fund during the 2013 session. Money from this fund will be used to provide 50 percent of the cost for dredging projects authorized under the agreement. Local governments will be responsible for providing the remaining 50 percent of the cost for a project they wish to sponsor.
According to Robert Schoonmaker of the Carolina Beach Inlet Association, in 2006, the Federal Office of Management and Budget cut funding of shallow draft inlet dredging in North Carolina. From 2006 to 2011, North Carolina’s shallow draft inlet dredging was funded through federal earmarks. Federal earmark funding has been stopped.
He explained Tuesday December 10, there is no federal funding for Shallow Draft Inlet Dredging in the 2013 federal budget.
The State of North Carolina, along with coastal municipalities and counties, have come up with Emergency Dredging Funds for 2013. After 2013 there was no funding available from the Federal or State Governments.
He explained it's not just the Carolina Beach Inlet, but inlets along the entire coast of North Carolina including Lockwood Folly (Brunswick County), New Topsail (Pender County), Bogue (Carteret County), New River (Pender and Onslow County), and the deep Oregon Inlet (Dare County).
He explained the mission is to "Secure a sustainable funding avenue at the state and local level so the USACE can maintain the shallow draft inlets."
At this moment Carolina Beach Inlet is only receiving $450,000 in Emergency Dredging funds, Less than half its original budget.
Counties with Shallow Draft Inlets will have to match the state of North Carolina on a 50/50 cost share for Maintenance Dredging. In order to maintain Carolina Beach Inlet that means the local share will be $500,000 dollars.
According to a NC Sea Grant study prepared by UNCW, ECU and Appalachian State published April 29, 2009, a large portion of the For-Hire vessels use North Carolina’s Shallow Draft Inlets on a daily basis to enter into the Atlantic Ocean.
$380 million per year is spent Coast-wide by For Hire fishing passengers.
With economic multiplier effects, this spending supports $667.4 million in Sales on the NC coast, 10,200 jobs supported, $261.4 million in wages and salaries and $49.3 million in local/state sales and excise tax.
The Study showed if the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway AIWW and Shallow Draft Inlets became un-navigable and reduced the number of boater trips $103 million would be lost in Economic output (Sales), 1,623 jobs and $50 million lost in wages and salaries, $14 million lost in Federal tax revenues and $8.6 million lost in state and local tax revenues.
Schoonmaker pointed to a study done in 2009. For the Carolina Beach Inlet it is estimated Direct Seafood Processing and Packing supported by NC Seafood Landings in 2007 generated $4,643,000. Passengers of For-Hire Fishery Direct Spending On Fishing Fees and Other Expenditures in 2008 was $5,820,000. The total of Commercial and For Hire Dollars was $10,463,000.
The maintenance dredging budget to keep the inlet open based on United States Army Corps of Engineers is $1,000,000.
Schoonmaker said for every $1 spent on dredging the inlet generates a return of $10.  
Schoonmaker said the news of the long-term agreement between the State and Army Corp of Engineers is positive but work still remains to be done.
He said Tuesday December 10th, that, "Now we have to convince New Hanover County, Wrightsville Beach, Wilmington, Carolina and Kure Beach on the importance of funding this project."
Not maintaining the Carolia Beach Inlet would eventually lead to the U.S. Coast Guard removing the navigational buoys and would create a hazardous situation for boaters traversing the inlet. For commercial and recreational vessels it would mean longer trips to other distant inlets or the mouth of the Cape Fear River to access the Atlantic Ocean. That would lead to increased financial burdens on commercial fishing boats and impact the overall economy including recreational boaters that live or vacation in New Hanover County.
For example, the charter fishing fleet in Carolina Beach relies on the inlet to take For-Hire fishing trips. Traveling farther to another inlet would lead to increased fuel costs and shorter fishing times.
Property owners along the waterway would have to travel farther for access to the ocean.
Many boat owners vacation in the area, stay at local hotels, eat at local restaurants and frequent retail businesses and their dollars help fuel the local economy.
Schoonmaker said there has been some discussion about how a local cost-sharing plan could be agreed upon among local governments.
The Wilmington and New Hanover Ports, Waterway and Beach Commission is scheduled to meet December 11th. On their agenda is discussion of funding for maintaining the Carolina Beach Inlet. Attached to that agenda is a spreadsheet showing breakdowns of Cost Per Capita among the unincorporated areas of the County and each municipality. The data also shows the percentage of the 12,748 boats registered in the County and the percentage located in each local government jurisdiction. Also, the property valuations and distance to the Carolina Beach Inlet. 
For example, taxable boats in New Hanover County:
• Unincorporated New Hanover County 52.5 %
• City of Wilmington  31.5 %
• Town of Wrightsville Beach 8.5 %
• Town of Carolina Beach 6.5 %
• Town of Kure Beach 0.7 %
Schoomaker said the emergency funding currently being used was a cost sharing between local governments with a match from the State.
That included:
• New Hanover County $170,000.00
• City of Wilmington $5,000.00
• Town of Wrightsville Beach $5,000.00
• Town of Carolina Beach $30,000.00
• Town of Kure Beach $15,000.00
For a local cost share total of $225,000.00 and State of NC cost share total of $225,000.00
For more information on the Carolina Beach Inlet Association, or to become a member, email Schoonmaker at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.