Still no money for collapsed Coast Guard bulkhead; officials concerned ahead of hurricane

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A bulkhead on Wilmington's Riverwalk failed as a result of Tropical Storm Hermine in September. Photo by Hannah Leyva.
A bulkhead on Wilmington’s Riverwalk failed as a result of Tropical Storm Hermine in September. (Photo by Hannah Leyva.)

WILMINGTON — Last month, after Tropical Storm Hermine hit the area, a bulkhead along the riverfront in downtown Wilmington collapsed in an area currently under construction as part of renovations to Water Street and Riverfront Park.

“There’s a lot of work going on on Water Street,” Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo said Tuesday during a site visit with Mayor Pro-Tem Margaret Haynes, Rep. David Rouzer (R – NC 7), United States Coast Guard officials and other city officials. “Part of that game plan is to hopefully replace this bulkhead that the federal government owns. It’s obviously a very important part of our river walk composition.”

The bulkhead is located on property owned by the Coast Guard near the home berth of the USCG Cutter Diligence, meaning it is the federal government’s responsibility to fix it. However, funding has not yet been secured for the project. According to House Rep. David Rouzer (R – NC 7), he included the project in a bill that was recently approved by the United States House of Representatives and is awaiting approval from the Senate.

“Our infrastructure needs are extremely important,” said Rouzer, adding that infrastructure needs often “take a back bench” to other issues in legislatures. “The area here as it relates to the Coast Guard is extremely important.”

Rouzer said the pier’s inclusion in the bill will “elevate the project” but not specifically fund it. Congress banned earmarking funds about a decade ago, according to Rouzer. So, instead, the language of the bill calls for a report to be done on the short- and long-term plans for the Coast Guard berth in Wilmington, including the costs of repairs. Once funding for the project (which according to officials could cost up to $13 million) is secured, a timeline can then be determined.

Though Rouzer declined to speculate on a time frame, he said it could take about two years before money for the project clears the hurdles of Washington bureaucracy.

The portion of the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Amendments Act of 2016 regarding the damaged Wilmington bulkhead.
The portion of the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Amendments Act of 2016 regarding the damaged Wilmington bulkhead.

Coast Guard engineers will be fixing what they can in the meantime, according to Coast Guard Commander Joe Comar,

“They’re doing what’s called ‘point’ or emergency repairs,” Comar said, saying the temporary repairs would cost about $500,000. “The big thing is to let the water drain out.”

The collapsed area was already filled with water on Tuesday afternoon due to previous rain events in the area. That, along with the fact that the original failure was a result of a weaker Tropical Storm Hermine, is causing concern for officials ahead of Hurricane Matthew’s expected arrival in the area this weekend.

“We have significant concerns that we can lose more of it,” Saffo said, adding that extreme rainfall could be “possibly catastrophic” for that part of the riverfront. “If it gets really bad, we could lose it up to the street.”

According to Deputy City Manager Richard King, crews will be doing what they can this week to mitigate damage and shore up the area as best they can. That included cutting down four trees near the collapse on Tuesday morning. Three other trees in the immediate area of the failed bulkhead were removed last month.

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