SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — Four months after first hearing federal funds for shoreline protection operations would not be available to New Hanover County, area officials are still in the process of diagnosing what went wrong and scrapping for replacement funds.
The crux of the dilemma involves beach nourishment — a cyclical process of wrangling nature through sand-moving that protects the shores from erosion and mitigates the impact of powerful storm events. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages the projects, which were scheduled to begin next winter for Wrightsville, Carolina and Kure beaches.
That is, until local leaders were caught off guard by the release of the corps’ federal work plan, which omitted the funding for New Hanover County beaches.
Even Rep. David Rouzer (R-NC), who fought to have the money included in the end-of-year spending bill signed in December by former President Donald Trump, was left looking for answers. “I don’t know that anybody knows why or why not the funding was excluded from the work plan for these specific projects,” Rouzer told Port City Daily. “We’ve never gotten an answer on that. And not necessarily that we would expect to, but we certainly have asked.”
According to Rouzer, a mix of players at the federal and local levels created a contingency plan: moving funds from other projects within the Army Corps Wilmington District toward the beach nourishment projects.
“There’s money left over from two projects,” he said. “That money is just sitting there.”
The funding, however, requires bureaucratic approvals from “the highest levels” of corps leadership, Rouzer said. The corps has neither approved nor denied the request to reroute unused funds at this time.
“The Army Corps might have other issues that they want to use that money for,” Rouzer added.
It is unclear whether the omission of New Hanover County beach nourishment projects was made by the corps itself, or the Office of Management and Budget. Rouzer said it could have been either.
On March 5, Rouzer joined both of North Carolina’s U.S. Senators, along with Rep. David Price (D-NC), in writing a letter to senior federal officials, imploring them to approve the local district’s plan of funding reallocation.
The Army Corps Wilmington District did not respond to a request for comment; neither did national headquarters.
“The ball is in their court to tell us yay or nay,” Rouzer said. “And of course we’re obviously lobbying very hard, in encouraging them to approve the reallocation request.”
On May 5, Rouzer alone wrote a followup letter to the director of civil works — a national Army Corps top boss.
“Any delay to the necessary beach maintenance events would diminish economic recovery while also leading to a greater risk of storm damage at a time when they can least afford to rebuild,” he wrote.
If the intra-agency allocation fails to garner approval from corps brass, Rouzer said he would submit an earmark request, specifically for the Wrightsville Beach and Pleasure Island projects. He has already entertained two requests from the Wilmington area, from the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office and Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization. In that scenario, the projects would still be at least a year behind schedule.
Those attuned to the beachtown funding scramble were eying the president’s budget, released Friday, to see if the Wilmington-area projects would be included, which could open up the door for funding next year. They were not.
“I think it’s highly likely one way or another that they’re going to get the money,” Rouzer said. “The question is, when do they get the money?”
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