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Carolina Beach should continue to lobby the state for help with beach nourishment projects, said a consultant who studied the level of savings the town should put away annually for sand.
With federal support for Carolina Beach’s shoreline maintenance set to expire next year and on a fear that the state will scale back its contributions, the town has explored how it will preserve its beach strand going forward.
Tom Jarrett of the Coastal Planning & Engineering Firm told the Carolina Beach Town Council on Tuesday that the town should prepare for the worst by saving about $550,000 or more per year in an account that would go toward local beach nourishment.
New Hanover County, with its room occupancy tax fund, may be Carolina Beach’s only financial partner if the federal and state governments cease to contribute, he noted.
The total projected dollar amount for another 40 years of nourishment at Carolina Beach might land between $106.6 and $125 million, according to Jarrett’s study.
Currently, a plan is in place for New Hanover County to cover up to 82.5 percent of costs, with the local beach covering the remainder, if higher sources like the federal government don’t allocate aid.
“This is kind of your worst-case situation,” Jarrett said Tuesday, but he also noted it might be the “more likely” one for the time being.
The federal funding authorization for Carolina Beach’s shoreline–good for 50 years since its 1964 activation–will expire in 2014.
While active, the federal government has been able to cover up to 65 percent of nourishment costs, and Jarrett suggested Tuesday it has paid off in terms of “storm damage reduction” at Carolina Beach, a town touted as a significant economic generator the same as most coastal tourism communities.
The beach nourishment set to commence there this year was priced at $9.3 million, with the federal government covering more than $6 million, the state $1.184 million and the county about $2 million from its room occupancy tax fund.
But the process to keep the federal government interested in the project, Jarrett said, could be highly “convoluted” and with no guarantees.
U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-7) is trying to establish a process for the federal government to reauthorize federal participation in Carolina Beach’s maintenance, as well as for all other federally authorized beach projects headed toward expiration. (Related story)
But the reauthorization request for Carolina Beach might also be viewed like a “new start” for the federal government, similar to any new and costly project on which the government might want to pass, officials have said.
Moving on with nothing but local support, though–expensive as it would be–might have at least one perk.
Jarrett said on Tuesday a locally sponsored nourishment could qualify the strand as an “engineered beach” that would be eligible for reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to cover any storm-related erosion or other shoreline damage.
Bald Head Island, for one, spent $15 million of its own money (borrowed and being paid back) roughly three years ago to nourish its south and west shorelines and has received reimbursements to cover sand lost in subsequent storms.
But as for the report on local savings encouraged at Carolina Beach, Mayor Bob Lewis on Tuesday said he wasn’t surprised.
“This is kind of what we had been expecting,” Lewis said.
During a Carolina Beach Town Council meeting in September 2012, then-manager Tim Owens suggested the town raise and save roughly $635,000 a year for the inevitable beach projects.
The hanging question was how to do that.
While legislation has already been introduced in the current session of the N.C. General Assembly to tap boat registration fees for inlet dredging money–and such projects may dredge up beach quality sand–beach towns along the state’s coast are asking for new ways to generate money specially for beach preservation. What they’d like to avoid is pure reliance on local property tax dollars.
Lawmakers including Sens. Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick) and Harry Brown (R-Onslow) are among those who’ve said they’re placing focus on coastal funding solutions in the current session.