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WILMINGTON – When the city’s lobbyists head to Raleigh in January to give its wish list to lawmakers, “beach renourishment” funding is not a likely inclusion.
Instead, “shoreline restoration” or some close variation may appear, but not as a synonym.
During a Wilmington City Council discussion Friday about tax reform and revised funding mechanisms the legislature might shape in the next session, Councilwoman Laura Padgett said seeking new revenue for “beach renourishment” or “beach preservation” ought not to top the city’s legislative agenda. Her reason: The term seems to disregard the city’s riverfront, a tourism generator the city has worked hard to maintain.
“We don’t have a beach to renourish. We have totally supported our riverfront ourselves,” Padgett said. “We have not gotten a dime from the beach renourishment funds to take care of this very expensive waterfront.”
She said she understood the economic value of the nearby beach strands, but, “I don’t think the City of Wilmington needs to be carrying the flag on this one. It needs to be at the end” of the legislative wish list.
“I agree with Laura,” Councilman Neil Anderson said. “We’ve got to start looking at our waterfront, you know, and the costs associated with it.”
Added Anderson, “I go to the beach, too. I’m not saying denigrate it or put it down, but we’ve got to start talking about our waterfront in terms of it’s not cheap to keep up.”
The idea to broaden the focus to “shoreline restoration” came from Councilwoman Margaret Haynes. Speaking generally, she said, “We welcome everybody in the region coming to the city, but we need to have the revenue to support that.”
The city is putting more than $4.8 million into improvements to the riverfront and Riverwalk, which the city has boasted as a top tourist attraction. The funds primarily cover shoreline stabilization and improvements to bulkheads and pilings.
The city also wants to revitalize Riverfront Park on Water Street. Six years ago the city—with partners including New Hanover County and Wilmington Downtown Inc.—secured a $250,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to design a downtown festival park, the money ultimately funneled to the Riverfront Park improvements. More recently, City Council accepted and allocated a $20,000 donation from the N.C. Azalea Festival to pair with another $20,000 budgeted for the installation of a symbolic water feature at the downtown park.
The park last received an overhaul in the 1980s.
City Council’s preference to address “shoreline restoration” instead of an all-beach focus will go into a resolution or letter the city’s legislative liaison will hand to the lobbying team.
The city as of Nov. 1 is paying Raleigh’s McGuireWoods firm $5,000 a month for the duration of the state legislature’s upcoming “long session” that could extend into summer 2013.
The area’s legislative delegation—and candidates running for seats this election—have expressed sensitivity to the beaches if not a plan to press colleagues hard for new beach nourishment mechanisms.
Ted Davis, the former New Hanover County commissioner who was recently appointed to serve N.C. House District 19, has in recent interviews placed beach renourishment as a top issue, “because it affects tourism, which is huge in dollars for our economy,” he said in late October. He also noted the value to coastal homeowners, tax base and jobs. His opponent in the race for the seat, Democrat Emilie Swearingen of Kure Beach, said the same.
It’s a talker issue of late as state and local officials increasingly acknowledge the federal government’s shrinking purse for coastal projects like inlet dredging and sand placements.
Towns like Carolina Beach, knowing an eroded shoreline is an eroded economy, are looking to the legislature for new ways to raise beach-project funds in order to avoid locally burdensome approaches like property assessments.
While projects vary beach to beach, renourishment projects often cost several million dollars each. An upcoming renourishment of Carolina and Kure beaches together will cost around $14 million.
At a meeting in September, members of the Carolina Beach Town Council agreed to tap their delegation in the General Assembly to explore the possibilities and find out whether a legislative effort is in order to increase the local sales tax or create a special, new accommodations tax.
Contact Ben Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or (910) 772-6335. On Twitter: @benbrownmedia