- Published on Wednesday, 21 May 2014 22:10
- Written by Super User
Beach nourishment project held in 2013 in Carolina Beach. Pumping sand on to the beach at the Carolina Beach Fishing Pier.
By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
CAROLINA BEACH - The Town of Carolina Beach 50 year Authorization Agreement with the Federal government for periodic beach nourishment projects is set to expire at the end of this year.
The Town receives beach nourishment every three years. The last project was in 2013.
According to the office of U.S. Senator Kay Hagan in a release issued May 16th, it was announced that a bipartisan agreement to reauthorize key water infrastructure projects that Congress is expected to approve next week contains several key provisions to maintain North Carolina’s critical waterways and protect coastal communities against future storm damage. The Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) authorizes important projects carried out by the Army Corps of Engineers, including dredging, beach nourishment, and harbor maintenance. Hagan worked to ensure that three projects in North Carolina would qualify for future federal funding under the bill.
“North Carolina’s beaches and coastal and inland waterways are a vital part of the state’s economy, attracting tourists and enabling our businesses to compete in the global economy,” said Hagan. “These important investments will help protect North Carolina from flooding and storm damage and maintain our coastal infrastructure so that our fishing and shipping industries can operate efficiently and continue driving our economy.”
Highlights for North Carolina include:
• Surf City and North Topsail Beach: Surf City and North Topsail Beach would be eligible under the bill for beach nourishment and other measures to prevent further shoreline erosion and to protect the community from coastal storms and flooding.
• West Onslow Beach and New River Inlet: The West Onslow Beach and New River Inlet would be eligible for the Corps to construct sand dunes and sand berm to protect the community from flooding.
• Neuse Watershed Ecosystem Restoration: This project will authorize work to restore oyster populations, hardwood forest, and improve fish habitat.
According to the release issued by Hagan's office, "Additionally, Hagan secured a critical provision to enable the Corps to study whether Carolina Beach should remain eligible for federal beach nourishment assistance. In 2015, Carolina Beach will be the first community in the country to reach the end of the 50-year authorization for federal assistance for Corps projects. Senator Hagan worked to include a provision in the Senate bill to enable the Corps to consider whether Carolina Beach should be eligible for federal assistance for another 15 years. The final bill maintains these provisions and provides Carolina Beach another 3-years of federal eligibility while the Corps reviews the merits of a 15-year extension."
"There has been no more pressing issue for North Carolina Coastal communities than the sustainability of our beaches from storm damage. Senator Hagan's leadership on this issue has been instrumental in securing approval for the continuation of Carolina Beach’s current storm mitigation and sand nourishment program, as well as providing the opportunity to be considered for federal beach nourishment funding after 2015,” said Carolina Beach Mayor Dan Wilcox. “Speaking on behalf of all our residents and countless visitors to our coastal beaches, we greatly appreciate the Senator’s efforts to help protect our shorelines, coastal structures and economy from the devastating effects of storm damage."
“I am committed to ensuring that our waterways and coastal communities have the resources needed to continue thriving, and I urge my colleagues to pass this bill swiftly to give our coastal residents and businesses the certainty they need,” added Hagan.
In May 2013, Senator Hagan joined with 82 other Senators to approve the Water Resources Development Act of 2013. The House approved its bill, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, in October 2013. The final conference committee agreement reconciles the differences between the two bills.
On Friday May 16th, Wilcox explained, "Yesterday I received two important phone calls from U.S. Senator Kay Hagan and Congressman Mike McIntyre to inform our Town Council that both the House and Senate have agreed on terms for the continuation of the Federal Storm Mitigation and Beach Nourishment program for Carolina Beach. Without this important work, and the sustained leadership of Congressman McIntyre and Senator Hagan, our shoreline, many coastal structures, and most importantly, our regional economy, was subject to devastation. On behalf of the Carolina Beach Town Council, our residents, stakeholders and the thousands of visitors who grace our beaches every year, we want to thank them for their unwavering support on this critical coastal issue. Once Council completely reviews the terms of the Act, we will issue a more detailed explanation of how this directly benefits our town and our pressing need to continue beach nourishment."
The New Hanover County Board of Commissioners voted at their May 5th, meeting to approve using $1.86 million dollars of Room Occupancy Tax (ROT) revenues collected from hotels and motels to help fund pumping 500,000 cubic yards of sand onto the beach in Carolina Beach later this year.
The Board took no action on a request from neighboring Kure Beach to use the same funding source for a nourishment project later this year.
Layton Bedsole, New Hanover County Shore Protection Manager, said, "In fiscal year 2014 the Army Corp of Engineers was able to bring forward approximately $2.1 million dollars from last years" budget and, "And in this years fiscal year 2014 work plan they were able to secure $2.7 million dollars. With that that's $4.8 million total. We were fortunate to have $727,000 from the State and we are asking tonight $1.863 million to make a $7.4 million dollar project."
The $1.863 million would come from the County's Room Occupancy Tax Fund. Visitors to hotels, motels and short-term vacation accommodations pay a Room Occupancy Tax (ROT). Portions of that tax are used to fund beach nourishment in Carolina Beach, Kure Beach and Wrightsville Beach. Other portions of the ROT are used for tourism promotion and to fund tourism related events that put more heads on beds in hotels.
The Carolina Beach 50 year Authorization Agreement with the Federal government is set to expire at the end of this year.
The funding meaure approved by the County Board of Commisioners was in anticipation the additional Corp funding could be the last time Federal money is received for such a project if congressional leaders do not reauthorize or extend the Town's Project Cooperation Agreement.
Bedsole said the Army Corp of Engineers, "Needs to award this project by October 1st and have the project well underway by the middle of December. Considering the issues associated with the Carolina Beach project federally, staff supports this recommendation."
Bedsole said, "New Hanover County is very fortunate in that we have three coastal storm damage reduction projects. All three were congressionally authorized in 1962. The Carolina Beach project and Wrightsville Beach project started in 1965 and the Kure Beach project didn't start until 1996 following Hurricane Fran. The Carolina Beach authorization does expire the middle of December. We are working hard in Washington DC to try and get some extension language in the Water Resources Development Act. It has not come out of conference yet and we anticipate it to come out of conference at the end of May hopefully."
Now the question is, with the WRDA legislation extending the program for Carolina Beach another three years while a study is done to extend it for 15 years, should the December project continue or should the ROT funds not be used and wait until to the next nourishment cycle in 2016.
County Manager Chris Coudriet sent an email to County Commissioners on May 13th stating, "Our legislative team had a conversation with Marlowe and Company last night about the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) reauthorization that is ready for equal action in the US Senate and US House. Indications from Howard Marlowe suggest we have good news for the Carolina Beach coastal storm damage reduction project – the act, if adopted as written, will extend the life of the Carolina Beach project for 3 years. The benefit of a 3 year renewal? Carolina Beach is eligible during its next regularly scheduled nourishment cycle [in 2016] for federal funding, which comes every 3 years just as does Kure Beach."
Coudriet explained, "As you may recall from the action the board took at its last meeting, you appropriated funds from the ROT to take advantage of funding this federal fiscal year for a final veneer along the beach. However, I noted to Michael Cramer, the beach manager, and in my memo to the board that if WRDA reauthorizes Carolina Beach we need to rethink the final veneer project. Remember: our objective was to take advantage of federal funds before the federal authorization expired. As WRDA is apparently written, we avoid expiration this December and have another 3 years of life. This is good for the beach and especially good for the ROT. Layton, I would ask that you weigh in on my message. I know everything we learned yesterday is preliminary and may well change at or before the vote. Additionally, we need to work through the mechanics of last month’s ROT authorization in light of possible federal funding eligibility for the next regularly scheduled and designed nourishment cycle."
While the WRDA legislation may give a three-year extension, federal funding has never been guaranteed even in previous years often resulting in lobbying and last minute funding measures approved by Congress.
Mayor Dan Wilcox commented Friday May 16th, "The 3 year provision does not guarantee any funding, nor are there any guarantees the current funding will be available in 2016."
If the Army Corp can carry over the current available funds until 2016, then not doing the project in December would help ease the burden on the county's ROT fund. Instead of paying a little over $1 million in ROT funds this year, they would need only use around $750,000 in 2016 with state matching funds.