County to lobby state for beach nourishment funding

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Carolina Beach. File photo by Hannah Leyva.
Carolina Beach. File photo by Hannah Leyva.

Though Kure Beach and Carolina Beach are currently in the midst of a coastal storm damage reduction project that is bringing over a million cubic yards of sand to their shores, questions on how to fund future projects are still a great concern. At the bi-annual beach communities breakfast meeting  Friday, it was the main topic discussed among officials from New Hanover County, the three beach towns, the city of Wilmington and the area’s representatives in both the state and federal legislatures.

Carolina Beach, who hosted Friday’s breakfast, has the most immediate concern. Their 50-year contract with the federal government to help fund CSDR or beach nourishment projects is the first in the country to expire. This current maintenance event is funded, but money for future ones is uncertain.

“It becomes very important for us to ask, ‘What comes after this?'” said Town Manager Michael Cramer. “Can there be a concerted effort in this problem?”

The projects, which help rebuild the dunes and replenish sand taken off the beach by erosion after storms, are jointly funded by the federal, state, county and whichever town is receiving the maintenance. It is uncertain if the federal government will continue to help with these projects, which occur in three-year cycles for Carolina Beach and Kure Beach and every four years for Wrightsville Beach, and officials are scrambling to find a way to cover that cost. The county is seeking more help from the state and has hired lobbyists to work in Raleigh on their behalf.

“Our main goal is to convince the state of North Carolina to move into the place we think the federal government will be vacating,” said Tom Fetzer, a former Raleigh mayor who is lobbying the General Assembly on New Hanover County’s behalf. “The message has to be about jobs and the economy, that this eastern swath is important to the state.”

State Representative Ted Davis agreed, saying the coastal communities had to sell themselves, in a way, to the rest of the state.

“One of the biggest drawbacks I’ve found since being in Raleigh is the people in the mountains, in the Piedmont, really don’t care about coastal issues,” Davis said. “Sometimes you get people’s attention if you hit them in the economic pocket. You just got to come up with a mechanism where you can get everyone on board.”

Officials from the beach towns asked the county to conduct an economic study that would include tourism and other aspects to help show the state how many jobs, visitors, industries and money the coastal areas bring in to the state’s overall economy. They agreed, saying numbers as well as cooperation with the other coastal counties, from Brunswick all the way up to Currituck, is paramount for success.

“Coastal infrastructure is important to the economy of our state, and we need to show that,” said County Manager Chris Coudriet.

“We need to put aside our parochial interests and think about the 326 miles of coastline,” Fetzer said, saying the counties bordering the ocean had formed a coalition and would be working together on legislative matters. “If we put that all together, it becomes a more powerful and compelling argument.”

In turn, the beach towns were asked to start thinking of ways they could come up with money should funding from the higher levels of government fall through. Carolina Beach was applauded for recently voting to install more parking meters, creating a new stream of revenue for the town to use. The small beach communities, however, can’t do it on their own, and New Hanover County officials have jumped on board to fight for funding in both Raleigh and Washington. Tourism, after all, is the county’s largest economic sector, and without sand, there would be no beaches for visitors from those cities and others to relax on.

“The county, at the end of the day, has to lead at this level,” said Carolina Beach Mayor Dan Wilcox. “I applaud the county for bringing this forward.”