Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Mayor Joe Benson discusses Island Greenway fencing, lake dredging, and church controversy

The Town of Carolina Beach has suffered setbacks in the midst of several different projects on the island; despite delays, these projects will continue.

CAROLINA BEACH — The Town of Carolina Beach has seen several projects face setbacks over the past year, including the delayed lake-dredging project that was almost canceled, and more recently contentious changes to the Island Greenway Fencing project. The Town Council as well as Mayor Joe Benson have received some criticism from residents and visitors on the projects.

Some have suggested that the projects are simply “not in my backyard” complaints, affecting only a few people but costing the entire town more money. Others have said that council picks favorites and proceeds with expensive projects based on personal relationships.

But Benson said that is not the case; while the choice to halt the construction of the Island Greenway Fencing was initiated by complaints from residents, Benson said there was nothing personal about it. Anyone who has concerns at any time can reach out to him, he said.

Island Greenway Fencing

Despite already installing some fencing in Carolina Beach, the town is now considering a more expensive option (Port City Daily/Courtesy Town of Carolina Beach)
Despite already installing some fencing in Carolina Beach, the town is now considering a more expensive option. (Port City Daily/Courtesy Town of Carolina Beach)

The Island Greenway has been in the works for several years and is finally on its way to completion. But the trail is located on property owned by the federal government, more specifically, the Military Ocean Terminal at Sunny Point (MOTSU).

Because of its location, the Army requires the town to provide fencing on the property to keep visitors off of military property. Several years ago the previous Town Council voted to construct a low-cost, chain-link fence complete with barbed wire — a look that some residents were not too happy about.

After receiving complaints from people living adjacent to the fence, Mayor Benson issued a stop work order to the contractor and brought the fencing concerns to Town Council. Council then held a public hearing in August regarding the fence and agreed that the chain-link barbed wire look was best left to minimum security prison, not a beach town.

Benson said that since the town held a public hearing on the issue, his decision to stop the current construction on the fence was not made unilaterally. Furthermore, each member of council has an equal vote so the decision was not made by him alone.

The replacement fencing has not yet been chosen, Benson said, but he expects the town to go with a black chain-link fence that is 8-feet tall. This option would likely be the least costly of the more aesthetically pleasing fencing, he said.

Not only is a barbed wire fence not pretty to look at, but it also poses a threat to animals, and potentially children who might try and climb the fence, Benson added.

Lake Dredging

Excavators sit idly by in Carolina Beach while the town tries to find a location to dump dredging spoils after a misunderstanding with MOTSU (Port City Daily photo/MICHAEL PRAATS)
The Lake Dredging Project in Carolina Beach was terminated in 2017. (Port City Daily photo/MICHAEL PRAATS)

The lake dredging project, which was started to help address flooding issues in the town saw a plethora of problems over the past year. What began as a relatively simple plan has now turned into a complex project.

After being notified that the town did not have the proper permits to discharge the lake dredging spoils on MOTSU property, the town had to halt construction.

Instead of simply digging out material from the lake and discharging it in a basin on the property, the town now has to move the material it placed on MOTSU land and find a new location to dump it.

During a budget workshop held earlier in the year, Town Manager Michael Cramer recommended not proceeding with the project due to the high cost it would take to complete it — but Council ultimately decided to proceed with it.

Benson said he has been looking for different ways to help save the town some money and is considering an option that would take the spoils and build an island in the lake, requiring less work to dispose of the materials.

During the September Town Council meeting, Cramer is planning on offering an update to the progress he has made with the project.

A new water tower

Carolina Beach Town Council failed to come to an agreement for the purchase of land for a new water holding tank (Port City Daily/Courtesy Carolina Beach)
Carolina Beach Town Council failed to come to an agreement for the purchase of land for a new water holding tank (Port City Daily/Courtesy Carolina Beach)

The Town has been planning a new water holding unit for more than a year. In the peak season, water usage is almost at capacity — and the town is only getting bigger, Benson said.

Related: Carolina Beach rejects ‘egregious’ land offer from church asking tenfold its land value

That is why the town was looking to purchase a piece of property from the Carolina Beach Presbyterian Church, but when it came time to decide on purchasing the land Town Council balked at the asking price. The property in question was appraised at roughly $10,000; the church asked the town to pay more than 10 times that value.

Benson, along with other members of Town Council, struggled with the steep cost and even called the offer “egregious” and an attempted “fleecing,” words Benson said he regrets saying.

While members of the church were offended by the statements made, Benson said residents in the community appreciated the decision not to purchase the land for the steep cost.

Benson said several of the church members are residents of Carolina Beach and they would benefit directly from the new water tower, and hoped the church would reconsider the asking price.

If the town and church cannot come to an agreement, there are other options, Benson said. There are two other pieces of town-owned property that could possibly serve as the site for the water tower, but engineering and plans would have to be completed first.

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