NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Two local governments voiced unanimous support this week for a federal bill that would exempt two local towns from beach renourishment restrictions.
Sponsored by North Carolina’s 7th congressional district’s Rep. David Rouzer, House Resolution 524 would allow Carolina Beach and Wrightsville Beach to return to using their adjacent inlets for sand projects. The New Hanover County commissioners and Wilmington City Council voted to support the legislation.
The two beach towns have used their adjacent waterways — Masonboro and Carolina Beach inlets – for decades until the Biden administration issued a reinterpretation of the Coastal Barrier Resources Act in 2021. Because the inlets are protected under the 1982 act, federal funds may not be used for projects that remove sand from the system.
This reissue sent the United States Army Corps of Engineers, executors of the beach towns’ projects, scrambling for offshore borrow sites. While Carolina Beach shortly found one off its coast — causing it to stay on schedule for its 2022 renourishment — Wrightsville Beach had a harder time and has yet to get sand.
In summer 2022, an offshore site was located for Wrightsville Beach, but the dredge requires intricate maneuvering around thousands of tires, part of a 1970s man-made reef project.
House Resolution 524 would exempt beach towns from the federal fund exclusion if they have used CBRA zones for coastal storm risk management projects for more than 15 years.
Rouzer introduced the bill in the House on Jan. 25, where it was then assigned to the House Committee on Natural Resources and subsequent water, wildlife, and fisheries subcommittee.
“Southeastern North Carolina’s beaches drive significant job growth and economic activity for our local coastal communities,” Rouzer said in a statement to Port City Daily. “We also count on our coastline as the first line of defense against powerful storms, and consistent beach renourishment is key to limiting the financial losses these major storms would otherwise cause. I’m proud to introduce H.R. 524 to reverse the Biden Administration’s decision prohibiting sand from being used from its traditional source, which is jeopardizing the much-needed beach renourishment of Wrightsville Beach.”
However, USACE Chief of Public Affairs David Connelly told Port City Daily the legislation, if passed, won’t come in time for Wrightsville Beach to reverse course ahead of its 2024 renourishment.
“At this point, it is too late for this cycle as we are far along in our plans required to be able to execute,” Connelly said.
He added USACE is in the process of finalizing its environmental impact assessment for the offshore site with the hopes of soliciting a contract in May.
Connelly said if the legislation passes, it might allow for using the inlet for future renourishments, set to occur every three to four years.
Before Wilmington City Council’s unanimous approval of the resolution, council member Luke Waddell said he hoped the project could return to the successful, cost-effective proven model. It’s been five years without renourishment at Wrightsville Beach.
“Consistent beach renourishment plays a role in limiting damage that could be caused by major storms along with the economic impacts we enjoy because of our surrounding beaches,” Waddell said.
A return to the inlet would also please commissioners; the county manager admonished the offshore site in a letter to Wrightsville Beach Town Manager Tim Owens in June 2022.
Commissioner Deb Hayes echoed that sentiment while speaking support of House Resolution 524 at Monday’s meeting.
“This is absolutely the right thing to do and has such a low environmental impact,” Hayes said. “The other way we were going to go was going to be an environmental disaster.”
The draft environmental plan completed by USACE earlier this year predicts minimal impact to the shore, though admittedly comes with more risk, cost and time.
According to the report, USACE has located seven potential dredge areas where they think the dredge will avoid sucking up tires. Two of them partially outside the three miles would require an agreement with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Without it, though, USACE thinks enough sand could be gathered from the other areas.
The risk to marine life is also low. The species facing particular concern are sea turtles, an endangered species; the report states relocation trawling may be necessary depending on the amount of turtles in the area at the time and the project method.
However, turtle injury or death is highly unlikely and methods of avoiding them in their habitat are highly effective, according to USACE Public Affairs Specialist Jed Cayton. He said there were no fatalities during Carolina Beach and Kure Beach’s recent renourishments, both sourced offshore.
The offshore dredge could also result in increased pile-ups in Masonboro or Mason inlets. Those pathways are dredged separately from beach renourishment for navigation purposes, but with more sand buildup, they could need clearing more often.
Dredging from Masonboro Inlet reduces concerns due to its reduced timeframe and area coverage. The system also replenishes sand due to longshore drift — the transportation of sediment down a coastline.
Connelly said USACE has found no significant impacts to Masonboro Inlet in the past due to renourishment.
The offshore dredge, estimated between $10 and $25 million, will also cost more than the inlet dredge.
“We are going to end up saving literally millions of dollars and save a lot of species that would have been unnecessarily interrupted,” commissioner Rob Zapple said on Monday. “All we’ve asked for is to be able to continue what we’ve been doing for at least 50 years. It’s the right solution and we finally got the right wording.”
NHC Intergovernmental Affairs Manager Tim Buckland told commissioners all municipalities and chambers of commerce in the county are considering similar resolutions to support Rouzer’s legislation later this month.
Wrightsville Beach Town Manager Tim Owens said the aldermen will take up the issue at their meeting on March 15. The Carolina Beach Town Council will discuss the following night.
“The town is thankful for Congressman Rouzer’s introduction of the House Resolution,” Carolina Beach Town Manager Bruce Oakley said. “We enthusiastically support it. We feel it is more economical and environmentally sound to pull sand from the inlet area rather than from an offshore borrow pit.”
Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at firstname.lastname@example.org