Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Looming public restroom shortage threatens the vibe on Wrightsville Beach

Despite a pre-Memorial Day deadline for completion, the new public bathrooms at Wrightsville Beach sit unfinished, even as hordes of tourists prepare to descend on the shores this coming summer. (Port City Daily/Preston Lennon)

WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH — The undertaking of building freestanding public restrooms near the central business hub of Wrightsville Beach is taking longer than expected. The initial deadline, set months ago, targeted an early May completion date. Now, Memorial Day — which represents an incoming, sustained deluge of tourist activity — is right around the corner, and the project is still incomplete and behind schedule. 

A toilet shortage could be exposed in the coming weeks, when the town’s population and foot traffic will greatly swell. Previously, Wrightsville Beach leased public bathrooms in a retail building in the same commercial plaza. When the property owner sought to double the rent, the town nixed the lease, according to town manager Tim Owens. 

So Wrightsville Beach embarked on creating restrooms of its own. Last October, a contract was awarded to IMEC Group, LLC. The total price tag was $391,000 — with an N.C. Division of Coastal Management grant bankrolling $165,000 of the costs.

“Mr. Edes (the town attorney) and I talked to the builder,” Owens said at a board of aldermen meeting last October, according to the minutes. “We told him our timeframe, we really need them to have them done by next May, definitely before Memorial Day.” 

The next month the town canceled its lease for the public restrooms previously available to beachgoers.

This year, in January, Owens gave an update. The bathrooms are “actually out of the ground now,” he told the board, indicating work had begun. “With the rain, we’re probably, if I had to guess, a week off from what the schedule was,” he said. 

In April, the outlook had become less rosy: “They’re a little behind schedule,” Owens told the board. “We stressed to them that they need to catch up. May 17 was the target date for them to finish.” 

Complicating the bathroom project is the amount of space taken up by the contractor’s worksite. Multiple parking spaces, a resource of particular concern on Wrightsville Beach, are out of commission as construction continues.

“It’s starting to get pretty crowded,” Owens said in April. “Parking has sort of thinned up. But anyway, so we’re moving on that.”

At the board meeting held last week, Owens’ assessment had further darkened: “We’re losing ground on our timing. We’ll hopefully have it done by the end of May.”

In an interview, Owens said issues related to Covid-19 were the primary harbinger of delays. The recent gas shortage, he added, also didn’t do the town any favors. 

“We do hope to be done in the next two to three weeks,” Owens told Port City Daily. “There’s issues with Covid, delivery of goods because of Covid. It could be the first, second week of June, at the latest.” 

The manager of a nearby Wrightsville Beach retail store said the lack of public restrooms had brought chaos and degeneracy to the plaza. 

“I have employees that are going out to eat lunch in the courtyard, and there’s people, grown men, peeing in front of children out there,” said the manager, who asked to be kept anonymous.

They added the shop had sent a request to the town manager, asking for a Rent-a-John to be brought to the site, but no response was ever received. There is a Rent-a-John at the construction zone, only it’s inside the boundaries of the worksite, rather than in the public square. 

“We’ve got customers getting angry, and we’ve got customers peeing on the side of our building,” the manager said. 

Have tips or comments? Email preston@localdailymedia.com

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