NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Beach towns in New Hanover County face a conundrum. Once a near certainty, federal funding for beach nourishment projects — which protect the shores against storms and erosion — is currently off the table.
Local leaders learned of the predicament two months ago after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the projects, released its federal work plan, showing no mention of Wrightsville, Carolina or Kure Beach.
The lack of focus on New Hanover County came despite the efforts of N.C. politicians like U.S. Representative David Rouzer (R-NC), who secured appropriations for the beach nourishment projects in federal spending bills signed by former President Donald Trump in late 2020.
The federal government previously agreed to contribute 65% of the costs for the upcoming Wrightsville Beach and Kure Beach projects. For Carolina Beach, the cost split would have been 50/50 between federal and non-federal funding.
Howard Marlowe, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbyist for a firm that works for coastal communities, said maneuvering for the limited amount of Corps funds is always an intense battle. He added that the Corps’ work plan is largely written prior to the moment Congress approves the funds.
“Congress authorized that project to receive money in December, but the work plan had already been completed by the Corps earlier in the month,” Marlowe said.
The Corps dedicated $56 million to funding construction of beach nourishment projects, Marlowe said. Project costs for Wrightsville Beach alone average around $13 million per four-year cycle. The Pleasure Island beaches are revitalized on a three-year cycle.
“When we saw that the projects were included in Congress’ bill, and approved, it was stunning when we got the news that it wasn’t in the federal final work plan,” Tim Buckland, New Hanover County intergovernmental affairs manager, previously told Port City Daily.
In the time since learning the Corps had no plans to bankroll the local projects, Beach town politicians mobilized alongside New Hanover County officials in search of alternative funding sources. Help was solicited from U.S. Senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, while Rouzer tried to make headway finding other Corps funds that might go unused.
In a statement, a Burr spokesperson said: “Senator Burr remains committed to securing additional beach nourishment funding for the New Hanover County area and has shared his support for these projects with federal officials. Our office is continuing to work with federal officials to secure these projects to enhance the area’s coastal resilience.”
According to New Hanover County Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Julia Olson-Boseman, Rouzer found a lead in Dare County.
“I met with Congressman Rouzer over the weekend, and he assured me that federal money would be back in play for our beach renourishment plans,” Olson-Boseman told Port City Daily March 15.
A Corps project in Dare County, represented by Congressman Greg Murphy, might go under budget, Olson-Boseman said. Additionally, the U.S. House of Representatives has made plans to resurrect earmarks, and Olson-Boseman has confidence Rouzer will utilize the new tactic to fund New Hanover County beach nourishment projects, if needed.
A spokesperson for the Wilmington District of the Corps said policy prevents discussing pre-decisional budgetary deliberations. The local shore protection projects “will be considered for funding with future annual appropriations, as we evaluate other potential funding alternatives,” the spokesperson said.
“If we don’t get it from the overage in Dare County, Congressman Rouzer is going to make sure that’s one of the earmarks,” Olson-Boseman said.
Through his communications director, Rouzer sent an emailed statement:
“Importantly, the Corps is moving forward with the plans and specifications for these beach renourishment projects so that they will be on schedule should the funds be approved for repurpose by the Office of Management and Budget and the Corps’ National office,” according to the statement. “I will continue to advocate for the Executive branch’s approval of the reallocation.”
While funding is still a question mark, a Corps project manager told county officials that “plans and specs” will be generated for the three unfunded nourishment endeavors, in the event that funds are procured by July.
“This is heavy competition,” Marlowe said.
After the fallout, county officials brainstormed self-funding methods. They put forward a list of options, including increasing the room occupancy tax by two percentage points, establishing a food and beverage tax, a general obligation bond and many others.
Ultimately, the county and beach towns agreed to cohesively seek federal funds together. If that proves untenable, the projects will be delayed by a year.
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