Coastal and security issues at the local and national levels were hot topics Wednesday afternoon as area leaders met with U.S. Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) at Wilmington City Hall.
At the table with Burr were New Hanover County Chairwoman Beth Dawson, Wrightsville Beach Mayor Bill Blair, Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo, Carolina Beach Mayor Dan Wilcox and Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous. A representative from 7th District U.S. House Rep. David Rouzer’s office was also present.
For the beach town mayors, shoreline protection is their biggest issue. Carolina Beach in particular is facing the most immediate problem as they are the first beach town whose 50-year contract with the federal government for beach nourishment funding is expiring, the first in the nation to do so.
“Carolina Beach is in a particularly undesirable position right now,” said Wilcox, adding that town officials have been working with the Army Corps of Engineers, who complete the Coastal Storm Damage Reduction projects, to figure out a solution. “That’s probably where we need the most help.”
Burr promised his help along with that of Rouzer and fellow Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) on the issue, saying it was important to have cooperation on all levels of government.
“We’re more than willing to jump into the middle of that to expedite that,” Burr said, noting the Army Corps of Engineers in the Wilmington district has always been helpful and responsive to local concerns. “It’s not a problem on the local level. The majority of the blame goes to Washington, D.C. and their inability to make decisions.”
Burr added, “North Carolina has such an investment in our coastline and it’s so important to us … that I think it needs to be a federal, state and local issue.” He pledged to work with the necessary agencies to secure some sort of funding agreement.
Kure Beach and Carolina Beach, which are renourished every three years, are set to get sand this spring from CSDR projects that are already funded. Wrightsville Beach was last worked on in 2014.
A nationwide heroin epidemic has hit Wilmington hard, and Chief Evangelous said it is “far worse than any we’ve ever seen in 40 years.” While several agencies on multiple levels are working together to combat the problem, Evangelous asked for more help from a legislative standpoint to deal with it.
The chief also asked for assistance in prosecuting the worst criminals on the federal level in order to keep them from becoming repeat offenders.
“The only way we get these real bad guys off the streets is if we take them federally,” Evangelous said. “The U.S. Attorney Generals are taking less and less and less cases, and it’s becoming a public safety issue.”
Burr, who is chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said security will be the top concern over the next few years and said more good law enforcement officers are necessary.
“Security’s going to be the No. 1 issue over the next decade, and it’s not limited to a national issue or terrorism or the every day crime we all know happens,” Burr said. “Whatever happens tomorrow, you’re the front line.”
When asked candidly by Saffo about the threat of the Islamic State terrorist group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, Burr called it “the most serious security threat I’ve seen in my lifetime.”
“It’s not going to be easy to do away with,” Burr said.
Despite that, Burr said he has never been more optimistic for the future of the area, state and even country. When Mayor Saffo told the senator that more construction will be done in downtown Wilmington, including that of new hotels, in the next few years than there has been in a century, Burr applauded the much-needed growth.
“North Carolina has become, community by community, a destination spot,” Burr said. “This [Wilmington] is a destination. It’s been incredible to see communities take their history and develop it.”
“It’s a very different North Carolina than the one I grew up in, but it’s exciting,” Burr added. “I’ve never been more excited for North Carolina’s future, and I’ve never been more excited for the United States’ future, but in order for North Carolina to succeed we’ve got to tweak some things.”
Commission Chair Dawson, who said she campaigned for Burr during his last re-election, said it’s crucial for officials on all levels to work together for the citizens.
“It’s so important for us local leaders to have good relationships with those at the state and federal levels,” Dawson said. “We’re thankful that Senator Burr always has his door open for us and is always willing to listen. It’s really a benefit to everyone.”
Burr returns to Washington, D.C. next week.