The New Hanover County Board of Commissioners has pledged to work with the county’s beach towns of Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach and Kure Beach to work on short-term funding for coastal storm reduction projects, also known as beach nourishment, in the absence of state or federal help.
After hearing a subcommittee report made by the county’s Shore Protection Coordinator Layton Bedsole on the current state of the interlocal agreement to pay for 17.5 percent of such projects, entered in 2011, and some alternatives to the existing plan, the commissioners said they understood the need for cooperation to secure funding as soon as possible.
“We’ve got a serious problem about the future of beach nourishment. It is extremely important for the future of New Hanover County,” said Commissioner Rob Zapple. “We’re now talking about … protection for our coastal communities, our infrastructure, our property values and the safety of our lives of our citizens. That’s what we’re talking about here.”
Upcoming projects for the year in Carolina and Kure Beaches,which are on three-year cycles for coastal storm damage reduction projects, are funded by the state and federal governments. (Wrightsville Beach, which is on a four-year cycle and was last nourished in 2014, is next due for maintenance in 2018). Any projects after that, however, are currently unfunded.
“Beyond that, we don’t know,” said Dennis Barbour, chairman of the county’s Port, Waterway and Beach Commission. “We are in a somewhat crisis.”
The three options presented by the subcommittee, which consisted of representatives of the PWBC, the three beach towns, the city of Wilmington and New Hanover County, were for short-term funding.
Option A would be for the county’s room occupancy tax (ROT) to completely pay for one project per beach town, which would cost the county $24 million in ROT through July 1, 2020 based on $8 million projects.
The second option is for the 17.5 percent local cost share to be split evenly between the county and the beach town receiving the maintenance. Based on the $8 million per project estimate, this would cost $700,000 each for the county and the recipient town.
The final option is for the local cost share to be distributed based on either ad valorem or per capita percentages for each beach town and the county. If ad valorem taxes are used, New Hanover County would pay 11.5 percent of the local cost share for Carolina Beach, 14.5 percent for Kure Beach and 9.5 percent for Wrightsville Beach. Based on per capita, the county would pay 14.5 percent for Carolina Beach and 16.5 each for both Kure Beach and Wrightsville Beach.
The subcommittee also looked at long-term options but gave no details on them as they involve outside parties such as the state and federal governments.
According to Bedsole, though federal funding is not guaranteed beyond 2016, local officials are working on getting long-term cooperation with them on these projects.
“We are continuing to engage the feds, we still have agreements with the feds, we’re still working hard to try and keep them in the game,” said Bedsole. “I do recommend that we have a plan B in place.”
Funding from the state of North Carolina is also something officials are working on.
“I think the state is an important player in our coastal storm damage reduction projects,” said Bedsole.
“What we in Carolina Beach would like to advocate for is a guarantee from the state to match non-federal dollars for beach nourishment projects,” said Carolina Beach Councilmember Steve Shuttleworth. “The county has helped us with that by getting the lobbyists in Raleigh.”
Shuttleworth said they are also working on getting the ROT back to the original rate for projects, where 80 percent of the money went to sand and 20 percent went to marketing. He said the amount going to sand has decreased in recent years.
The county commissioners agreed that the need to figure out funding for the projects is urgent.
“My fear is that if we don’t do some very fast work here and maintain an agreement with Carolina and Kure and Wrightsville Beach, we’ll be having the same conversation in [the future],” said Zapple.
The next step is for the Board of Commissioners to meet with the beach towns to discuss another interlocal agreement for short-term funding and to plan for how to secure long-term help from elsewhere.
“The message has been received. It’s not going to be sat on or put on a shelf,” said Commissioner Woody White. “I’d like for the beach communities to know we’re all in this together.”