U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre expressed confidence Monday that coastal towns like Carolina Beach will continue to receive financial aid for beach nourishment, and that Congress can find a way to reauthorize such funding partnerships that are due to expire.
Presently, that road doesn’t exist; officials say there’s no mechanism to reinstate expiring 50-year sand funding agreements like the one now in its final weeks at Carolina Beach.
If that agreement times out–as it would on Jan. 1–without a way to extend or reauthorize it, the town could see a big shift in who must pay for the expensive and routine projects, which fatten beaches to buffer effects of seasonal storms on lives, homes and tourism environment.
While a channel to extend such projects has been worded into the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, and while the U.S. Senate approved the legislation as such, the House version didn’t include it. Restoring it now apparently depends on the outcome of a conference committee on the bills’ differences.
“I’m optimistic,” McIntyre (D-7) said Monday in Wrightsville Beach. “I think we’ve got the right arguments.”
They’re “people” arguments, he told around 130 public and private coastal officials gathered at the Blockade Runner hotel for the annual N.C. Beach, Inlet and Waterway Association (NCBIWA) conference. Lives are lived and jobs are performed on the coast while visitors from all over the country enjoy the environment, McIntyre asserted. “These are not partisan issues; these are people issues.”
But to many legislators, it remains a money issue, and from time to time amendments crop up to end federal spending on sand projects, which Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has fought to brand as bad investments that just wash away.
The conservative Heritage Foundation in 2009 called federally funded beach “re-sanding” over the years a top example of government waste in the billions of dollars.
But Harry Simmons, mayor of Caswell Beach and NCBIWA executive director, said it’s a good sign that amendments to end federal beach spending fail. Coburn didn’t find traction with one he filed earlier this year to stop extensions of 50-year projects, having argued it wouldn’t be fair to continue such funding when other needs are underfunded or dry altogether.
McIntyre contended Monday that the upfront expense to maintain beach strands actually saves money. He said six hurricanes tore at southeastern North Carolina during his first four years in office, and that beach nourishment here reduced surge damage.
He said the message must be “that storm mitigation work has to be done ahead of time and that it does ultimately save the taxpayers money.”
As he often does, the congressman on Monday also touted what is said to be a one-of-a-kind tax return for beach nourishment projects: $320 for every dollar spent.
“Now that is an investment that is worth fighting for,” he said to applause.
Nourishments vary in scale but are typically multi-million-dollar. During a presentation at Monday’s NCBIWA conference on the projects’ effects on beach organisms, UNCW biologist Dr. Larry Cahoon noted the typical beach is replenished on a four-year cycle (and the projects seem to have little if any effect on surf-zone fish).
The last renourishment at Carolina Beach wrapped up earlier this year. Inclusive of Kure Beach widening as well, the total cost was about $12.5 million, with the federal government paying for 65 percent of it.
Numerous beaches along each U.S. coast have similar 50-year funding partnerships with the federal government. Carolina Beach’s would be the first to expire.
For the worst-case scenario, the town is putting money away. It’s raising revenues from increased fees on Freeman Park passes (related story) and could rake in more than $1 million this fiscal year. New Hanover County is also prepared to participate in costs with room occupancy tax revenues.
As for another coastal project where federal funds are considered unreliable at best–inlet dredging, which can produce beach sand–a state official offered positive thoughts Monday.
Tom Reeder, director of the N.C. Division of Water Resources, reminded the NCBIWA audience that North Carolina’s legislature this year established a new dredging fund being infused with elevated-price boat registration fees. Citing the General Assembly’s fiscal research staff, Reeder said the expectation is about $6 million raised per year for projects, which would require a dollar-for-dollar local match.
“We’re always going to have money to help out local governments with dredging projects,” said Reeder. “I think we’re going to be on very sure footing when it comes to dredging in coastal North Carolina.”