SOUTHEASTERN N.C — The Cape Fear region’s beaches, waterways and inlets will receive millions of extra dollars from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) for ongoing and future projects.
From $22.81 billion in supplemental funds received from Congress, the Wilmington District was allocated $95.8 million last fall. USACE reviewed requests from seven divisions and divided it based on need, according to Wilmington District spokesperson Emily Winget.
Of that, nearly $30 million will go to beaches and waterways within New Hanover County. The Wilmington District revealed Jan. 19 its plans to spend the additional funds on dredging and maintenance of federal navigation channels.
The federal funds were awarded through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, signed in November, and the 2022 Disaster Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, signed in September. The money is intended to tackle a nearly $109-billion construction backlog of USACE projects.
The dredging of Wilmington Harbor is the region’s largest project receiving these supplemental funds. The Army Corps allotted $10.25 million for planning and awarding a contract in fiscal years 2023 and 2024, respectively, and $250,000 for updating the Wilmington Harbor Dredged Material Management Plan, which identifies locations for dredged material.
Under the Rivers and Harbor Act of 1938, the USACE is authorized to maintain the navigational channel of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, which includes Wilmington Harbor — located on the peninsula between the Cape Fear and Brunswick rivers. Dredging maintains the channel depth of waterways to provide continued access to harbors and ports by scooping up settled sediment from the ocean floor and moving it elsewhere.
The funds will be used to create more disposal space for dredged material — specifically at Eagle’s Island where a material facility is located. Without increasing capacity, the USACE reports the disposal location will be full by 2024. If the planned improvements are not implemented, after 2024 all dredged material from Wilmington Harbor will have to be transported approximately 38 miles, one way, to the Offshore Dredged Material Disposal Site (ODMDS), greatly affecting costs of maintaining the navigation channel, according to a USACE project report.
Controversy surrounding the environmental impacts of dredging have been raised in the past, most recently in August 2021, when a lawsuit was filed against the USACE after it opened up local dredging windows year-round and ended the ban during turtle nesting season.
The complaint cites dozens of endangered sea turtles are killed during federally mandated dredging along the coast. In 2021, five sea turtles were killed in the Wilmington District, according to the lawsuit. The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality concluded the corps did not compile enough data to justify permanent year-round dredging. Instead, the agreement allows dredging year-round on a three-year trial period.
Earlier that year, USACE released an environmental assessment for the Wilmington District, which concluded “no significant impact.”
Other Cape Fear area USACE projects awarded funding in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, commonly referred to as the “Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal,” include:
- $4.5 million for Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway dredging and surveys
- $1.04 million for Carolina Beach Inlet dredging and surveys
- $3 million for dredging of the New River Inlet
- $250,000 for Masonboro Inlet and connecting channels jetty inspection and maintenance
- $520,000 for New Topsail Inlet and connecting channels dredging, surveys and turbidity monitoring
- $6.5 million to rehab the collapsing esplanade at William O’Huske Lock and Dam (located at Tolars Landing, about 17 miles southeast of Fayetteville) as well as dewatering, pulling and rehabbing miter gates at all three Cape Fear Lock and Dams
The 2022 Disaster Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act provides the USACE with funding for emergency relief from hurricanes and previous disasters.
Under the Disaster Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, Wrightsville Beach was awarded $11.6 million for required nourishment repairs needed due to damage caused by Hurricane Florence in 2018.
Separately, USACE’s annual work plan for fiscal year 2022 also produced $22 million for the Wilmington Harbor and roughly $500,000 for the Cape Fear River above Wilmington.
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