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Friday, May 17, 2024

Congress approves renourishment money for Wrightsville Beach

After a year of ups and downs, beleaguered project gets new life

The beach is closed in some parts of Carolina Beach while work continues (Port City Daily/Michael Praats)
Previous beach nourishment at Carolina Beach in 2019. (Port City Daily/Michael Praats)

WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH — The formula for moving new sand onto Wrightsville Beach, a job done every few years to expand the strand and fight erosion, has taken a major beating this past year.

The town was supposed to be the beneficiary of a beach renourishment project scheduled for the early months of 2022 — but the expected money from Washington, D.C. never arrived, throwing timelines for the Wrightsville Beach project, and similar jobs on Carolina and Kure beaches, into disarray. Then came a new federal policy in July that made it impossible for Wrightsville Beach to continue renourishing its coastline by dredging Masonboro Inlet, essentially forcing a new project template to be built from scratch. 

READ MORE: Funding for Wilmington-area beach nourishment disappears at last minute; local leaders shocked

READ MORE: New Biden administration policy could jeopardize beach renourishment formula for local towns

The Pleasure Island projects were eventually salvaged and kept on schedule, largely through behind-the-scenes workings by the local officials in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the sand-moving jobs, and the office of U.S. Rep. David Rouzer. Dredging for Carolina and Kure beaches is expected to begin soon.

On Wednesday, Wrightsville Beach finally received a hint of good news. Rouzer and both North Carolina’s U.S. Senators announced $11.6 million for the beach renourishment project on Wrightsville Beach had been included in federal legislation. The money is tied to the Army Corps’ work plan for the Disaster Relief and Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2022. 

With funding guaranteed, the Army Corps expects to be able to complete the beach renourishment project on Wrightsville Beach in the early months of 2023, approximately one year behind schedule.

“I’m pleased the Army Corps of Engineers has moved quickly to include $11.6 million in their work plan to fund the Wrightsville Beach renourishment project,” Rouzer said in a press release. “As I have said previously, this funding was not a matter of ‘if,’ but ‘when.’”

The new $11.6 million is pure federal money that does not require a local match, but it will not cover the full cost of the job. Local Army Corps actors are still pursuing additional funds, according to spokesperson Jed Cayton. Anything else they’re able to procure would be cost-shared along with local and state governments. 

Cayton said the primary avenue for additional funds would be the overarching annual work plan developed by the Army Corps’ national office. It’s the same work plan that was expected to fund beach renourishment in New Hanover County last year, but did not. 

“We’re still pursuing the funding to complete the full template of that job,” Cayton said. “The $11.6 million will apply, and we’re also going through our regular appropriations process to identify the full amount of money required.”

The reason that Wrightsville Beach continued to face uncertainty, even as Carolina and Kure beaches procured funding in recent months, was a change in federal policy that made it impossible to collect federal dollars for projects that involved dredging of places protected by the Coastal Barrier Resources Act. 

READ MORE: Beach renourishment endgame starts to crystallize after months of uncertainty

Wrightsville Beach and Carolina Beach have historically dredged sand from their next-door inlets for beach renourishment, using the neighboring waterways as reservoirs for sand. After that formula was taken off the table, the Army Corps was able to quickly approve an off-shore reservoir — miles out into the ocean — from which Carolina Beach could draw sand from. But no such easy path forward existed for Wrightsville Beach, and the Army Corps is still at work on approving an off-shore site that Wrightsville Beach can use. 

READ MORE: Beach renourishment fix puts Pleasure Island back on track, leaves Wrightsville Beach behind

“We still have to do all the work we were doing previously: getting a borrow source identified, and then get the money to do the full job,” Cayton said. “We’re still in the process of identifying the site and doing the environmental assessments.” 

Rouzer, in the press release, said the Biden administration’s new interpretation of the Coastal Barrier Resource Act was the reason for the delay in the funding announcement for Wrightsville Beach. 

“Only because of a re-interpretation of the Coastal Barrier Resource Act by the Biden Administration’s Department of Interior was it not announced when the Carolina Beach and Kure Beach funding was,” according to Rouzer. “Today’s announcement is confirmation of the Corps’ commitment to addressing the storm damage reduction needs of Southeastern North Carolina’s local coastal communities, and I thank them for their continued efforts.”

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