A former director of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) problem-solving branch says the people who drive the domestic tourism industry will increasingly opt for alternatives unless the government places a fresh priority on the American coast.
James Houston, director emeritus of USACE’s Engineer Research & Development Center, asserted in the latest edition of the technical journal “Shore & Beach” that few Americans understand the size of the travel and tourism industry and that beaches are the top destination.
“Survey after survey finds that beaches are the leading U.S. vacation destination,” Houston wrote. But when erosion outpaces shore nourishment efforts and results in thinning beach strands, “tourists head to other destinations, including foreign beaches.”
He also says the U.S. “lags much of the world” in the growth of investments in tourism infrastructure, beach nourishment included.
“Renewed U.S. investment in tourism infrastructure is important to grow the economy and number of jobs and to reduce the U.S. trade imbalance,” said Houston.
According to the American Shore & Beach Preservation Association (ASBPA), which publishes the peer-reviewed “Shore & Beach,” the travel and tourism industry accounts for 10 percent of the U.S. job market, “more than all U.S. manufacturers combined.”
While officials including U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-NC7) have said every dollar invested in beach nourishment returns $320 in tax revenues, ASBPA in a press release Tuesday said the return in 2012 was as high as $570.
“Some 85 percent of all the U.S. tourist related revenues are generated by coastal states” like North Carolina, ASBPA added.
“Seventy-five percent of summer travelers plan to visit beaches,” said the N.C. Beach and Inlet Management Plan, or BIMP, developed to guide North Carolina’s coastal policy.
For North Carolina, the BIMP called coastal tourism the “single greatest contributor to the state’s tourism economy, accounting for more than $2.6 billion in economic activity in 2009.”
“Beaches are of incredible economic importance to the local, state, regional, and national economy contributing nearly $35 billion in annual federal revenues,” McIntyre said.
Pleas for beach nourishment money have upped in volume since the N.C. General Assembly kicked back into session in January. At Carolina Beach, a consultant recently encouraged the town to keep pressing legislators for state funding.
Beach nourishment projects generally costs millions of dollars each, and Carolina Beach’s federal funding support program is scheduled to expire next year (though McIntyre has pushed a bill in Congress to reauthorize the federal help).
During a meeting with New Hanover County’s state legislators Monday at Wilmington City Hall, Wrightsville Beach Mayor David Cignotti asked them to keep in mind state-level beach nourishment contributions.
“Please keep teaching your colleagues in Raleigh how important that is,” Cignotti said. “I think Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach and Kure Beach are the poster child of beach nourishment. It does work. Wrightsville Beach has been receiving that since the ’60s. I think [1996’s Hurricane] Fran was a good example. We had minimum damage on our waterfront because of beach nourishment projects.”
Area legislators including Rep. Ted Davis (R-New Hanover) are part of a “coastal caucus” assembled to inform inland lawmakers about the perceived importance of the coast.
Inlet dredging ‘very important’
Monday’s meeting between the lawmakers and officials like Cignotti was meant to have a New Hanover County focus, but it also brought out mayors from Brunswick and Pender counties interested in what Davis and his counterparts might say about coastal funding.
It wasn’t just the state of the strand on Topsail Beach Mayor Howard Braxton’s mind; he wanted an update on what the state planned to do to keep shallow draft inlets open and safe for boaters, being that federal dollars aren’t arriving amply for such projects these days.
“Our inlet has been closed for the last three months, basically,” Braxton said. “Anything with a greater-than-four-foot draft couldn’t go through it at any time.”
“I’m surprised we haven’t had more accidents and had someone killed in the inlet at this point,” he added.
Davis noted that Sen. Harry Brown (R-Onlsow) filed a bill in early February seeking increases in boat registration costs to generate money for a state inlet dredging fund. Brown has said the state needed to raise $5- to $7-million annually to adequately address the inlets.
“Inlet dredging funding is something that is very important in the coastal caucus,” Davis said.
As for federal support for the coast, area officials including Carolina Beach Mayor Bob Lewis and Kure Beach Mayor Dean Lambeth had planned to attend the ASBPA’s 2012 Coastal Summit that runs today through Thursday in Washington, D.C.
The agenda notes meetings with coastal agencies like USACE and with members of Congress and their staffers for advocacy.