Saturday, July 2, 2022

Wrightsville Beach gets help from Congressman as federal funding dries up

Beach-goers relax on a sand bar in Mason Inlet at the north end of Wrightsville Beach. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
Beach-goers relax on a sand bar in Mason Inlet at the north end of Wrightsville Beach. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)

WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH — Federal funding, that for decades has supported Wrightsville Beach coastal management projects, is dwindling. 

Legislation from 1986 bankrolled beach nourishment work in the Town largely through the Army Corps of Engineers. The program is set to run for 50 years — through 2036 — but the required beach maintenance costs have exceeded the original budget. 

Beach nourishment projects at Wrightsville Beach are done in four-year cycles, and the next is planned for 2022. Because the 1986 law imposed a spending cap on these projects, it’s unlikely that, as it stands, the Army Corps of Engineers would have the backing to complete projects beyond that one.

U.S. Representative David Rouzer (R-NC) pushed hard to authorize additional funding for Wrightsville Beach as a line item in the 2020 Water Resources Development Act, which was passed by the House of Representatives in July. 

The bill is awaiting a vote in the Senate, and would raise the spending cap of Wrightsville Beach to over $100 million. If passed before the end of the year, it would authorize additional federal dollars for coastal management in Wrightsville Beach, which Town leaders say are sorely needed.

Wrightsville Beach Mayor Pro Tem Hank Miller said the Town could probably stretch the current funding out through 2022, when the next round of beach nourishment is scheduled.

“This would be huge for us,” Miller said in a text message. 

Town Manager Tim Owens said the 1986 cost projections underestimated the Town’s modern needs.

“The government estimate back in 1986 was too low,” he said. “It’s hard to project what’s going to go down 20, 10, five years out, much less 50.” 

Rouzer said when he took office, he sought out a spot on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, to make operations like this possible.

“The heavy lift is getting it authorized,” Rouzer said. “Because so much more money had been spent, and so much quicker than originally anticipated, they were hitting their cap before the project expired.”

The House version of the Water Resources Development Act raises Wrightsville Beach’s spending cap to ensure the Town can nourish its beaches through 2036. 

Rouzer said it’s a constant battle to ensure the Army Corps of Engineers has the funding it needs to make beach projects possible. He said his ability to get spots on committees relevant to his coastal district has helped him highlight the needs of Wrightsville Beach and other nearby beach towns in Congress.

“Just having been around the block, I knew that in order to take care of the needs of the district, it would be exceptionally helpful to be on the transportation and infrastructure committee,” he said. “So that really gave me a leg up as compared to many other people, in terms of taking care of the beach needs. And not just the beach needs, but the inlets and waterways.”

If passed by the Senate and signed by the President, the Water Resources Development Act wouldn’t immediately send federal dollars to Wrightsville Beach. The funding would still need to be specifically appropriated. Rouzer said that’s not the hard part.

“You can’t appropriate what’s not authorized. And the appropriation aspect is a year by year battle, but that’s not the heavy lift that this is,” he said.

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