Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Surf City approves beach push on top of $5 million sand haul, councilman argues for all-out push to preserve funds

Councilman Jeremy Shugarts argued for a complete beach push while preserving the $5 million nourishment funds until long-term work begins later this year or in 2020. Mayor Doug Medlin stood by the town's decision for the beach haul combined with a partial beach push to protect beachfront properties not designated "imminent critical areas" by FEMA.

A prior beach push in Surf City. (Port City Daily photo/file photo)
A prior beach push in Surf City. (Port City Daily photo/file photo)

SURF CITY — Last Friday the Surf City Council, by a three-to-two vote, approved an additional $300,000 for a beach push to restore dunes on oceanfront properties not designated “imminent critical areas” by FEMA and coastal engineering firm TI Coastal Services.

On Wednesday Councilman Jeremy Shugarts said he and fellow councilmember Teresa Batts opposed the spending legislation, which called for the additional funds on top of approximately $5 million from the town’s beach restoration fund that will be used for a sand haul from an external source.

RELATED: Topsail Island beach nourishment projects move forward with no assurances of federal funding

A beach push, according to Shugarts, is an operation that uses bulldozers backed up to the low tide areas of the beach to push sand up to high tide areas.

“I’ve seen some pushes in the past — they are not optimum. But because we’re in a serious situation here, I think it’s a good temporary bandaid until our beach nourishment project is done,” Shugarts said.

Shugarts argues for all-out beach push

As the town continues to wait for any firm commitment from FEMA to reimburse the $5 million sand haul, Shugarts argued that this money — which will come from the town’s beach restoration fund — should be preserved until TI Coastal’s long-term beach restoration work begins later this year or in 2020.

“My concern is: say you bring in $5 million of sand and you dump it and build these berms, one big Nor’easter comes in, where’s the sand end up? It ends up back in the ocean,” Shugarts said.

He said a substantial amount of oceanfront homes in Surf City were left unprotected, referring to those properties not marked critical for the sand haul project. After meeting with several community groups who said they were willing to finance their own beach push, Shugarts sent an email to constituents last weekend outlining an argument for an alternative option.

“We could have pushed the entire beach for $500,000 instead of $5 million plus the $300,000 [for the partial push],” Shugarts wrote. “Only I and [Batts] were in favor of an emergency push for the entire beach to temporarily repair the dunes until the full beach nourishment project can take place. This would have preserved our fund by $4.5 million.”

He said the $5 million beach hauling project was “for the emergency side of things” and did not align with long-term beach restoration goals.

“But I understand what [the town] is trying to do,” Shugarts said. “You’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t. I understand that they want to get sand in front of these homes, but I also don’t think we’re getting the juice from the squeeze here. We’re going to spend $5 million, for what? To hope that it holds off long enough until our beach nourishment is done?”

The Surf City beachfront at the Greensboro Avenue beach access. (Port City Daily photo/file photo)
The Surf City beachfront at the Greensboro Avenue beach access. (Port City Daily photo/file photo)

Although the beach push will not be reimbursed by FEMA, according to Shugarts, he said he’d rather spend $500,000 “and hope it holds off until our beach nourishment is done.”

He also said the whole idea of a beach push has been controversial, and TI Coastal has been against any kind of push “up until this point of time.”

President of TI Coastal Chris Gibson did not respond to a request for comment.

“I’m not saying beach pushing is the best,” Shugarts said. “It’s not the end-all. But in the situation that we’re in, it was the lesser of two evils.”

He also commended the town, including Town Manager Ashley Loftis, for working diligently on providing a beach push in order to provide protection for those properties not marked as imminent critical areas.

Mayor Medlin supports sand haul and beach push

On Wednesday Mayor Doug Medlin clarified that the imminent critical map was drawn up after a FEMA expert and Gibson rode the beach and marked the areas deemed critical.

When Gibson first assessed the beach of Surf City, according to Medlin, he said that the damages were extensive enough to get sand hauled for the entire beach. But when the FEMA expert later accompanied Gibson on an assessment, Medlin said it was decided to only haul sand for critically imminent areas.

“It’s all under FEMA,” Medlin said. “FEMA decides what you get. … If we go ahead and haul sand to where they haven’t given an ‘okay’, then we won’t get reimbursed for that part of the sand.”

Now, Medlin believes a long-term solution in the form of the sand haul needs to be combined with a “band-aid” approach in the form of a sand push in areas FEMA doesn’t consider critical. He also said he is confident FEMA will reimburse the $5 million at a later date — as he has been told by multiple FEMA officials — although he is waiting for signed papers committing such funding before the town begins the hauling work.

Although all town commissioners supported the beach push, Medlin clarified that Shugarts and Batts supported a complete beach push without hauling any sand in.

“If we can get the $5 million back from the FEMA project, then let’s go ahead and do that,” Medlin said. “Then this summer or this next hurricane season, if a storm comes in and takes that sand out, FEMA will come back and pay for that sand to be put back. If the storm comes in and takes away what we push up, then FEMA won’t pay for any of that.”

Both Medlin and Shugarts emphasized that FEMA would not fund a beach push, whether it was complete or partial. Medlin said the $5 million sand haul would “put us that far ahead on our beach nourishment program, and FEMA will be paying for it.”

FEMA responds: A “basic misunderstanding”

A statement posted to the town’s website on Friday, February 8, confirmed that the additional beach push was decided to protect areas not included on the imminent critical map. 

The results we received did not meet the Town’s expectations and we feel that FEMA is not protecting our citizens’ best interest,” the statement read. “We feel that by moving forward with a sand dune push, this will give all property owners the protection they need as we work through the process of moving forward with our private beach nourishment project slated to begin in 2020.”

On Thursday FEMA spokesperson John Mills attributed the town’s sentiment to a confusion between the two parties, without further elaborating.

“I think it was a basic misunderstanding,” Mills said. “FEMA has a great working relationship with Surf City,” Mill said. 


Mark Darrough can be reached at Mark@Localvoicemedia.com

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