Monday, April 15, 2024

Rep. Rouzer joins local officials to discuss Wrightsville Beach renourishment

Congressman Rouzer spoke with other elected officials Wednesday about ongoing Wrightsville Beach renourishment efforts. (Courtesy Port City Daily)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Congressman David Rouzer joined other local elected officials to discuss ongoing efforts to renourish Wrightsville Beach at Johnny Mercer’s Pier on Wednesday.

“Many in the general public don’t recognize that beach nourishment is infrastructure and it’s critically important from a standpoint of safety, from a standpoint of economic development,” Rouzer said at the meeting. “Can you imagine if we didn’t have this beach? Can you imagine how that would affect the local economy?”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began mobilization of Wrightsville Beach’s most recent renourishment effort in December 2023. USACE’s Wilmington district selected South Carolina-based construction firm Marinex Construction, Inc. for a federally funded, $13.6 million contract to place 1 million cubic yards of sand from the south of the Blockade Runner on Seashore Street to the north of the Holiday Inn Resort Lumina at beach access number 8. The project is expected to be completed in April.

The beach’s last renourishment cycle was scheduled for 2022. Delays occurred after the Department of Interior’s 2021 reinterpretation of the federal Coastal Barrier Resource Act — which prohibits federal funding of projects that extract sand from CBRA-designated protected zones. The protected zones included inlets local beach towns have used for cyclical restorations for years.

DOI’s reinterpretation came after a lawsuit from the Audubon Society which argued previous CBRA policy allowed sand extraction in vulnerable ecosystems and threatened wildlife.

Rouzer — who represents North Carolina’s 7th district — introduced House Resolution 524 to grant the towns of Wrightsville Beach and Carolina Beach an exemption to the CBRA law to use sand from nearby inlets in their restoration efforts. 

Supporters of H.R. 524 included local officials who argued further delay of the renourishment cycle would enable erosion and safety threats to residents and property.

Opponents of H.R. 524, such as environmentalist group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, argued sand mining in areas outside the CBRA-protected zone would provide a better long-term solution.

In a May 2023 hearing before the subcommittee on Water, Wildlife, and Fisheries, PEER cited USACE reports to argue Masonboro’s Inlet’s volume of sand is declining and unable to recharge sufficiently to meet Wrightsville Beach’s long term renourishment needs.

“In North Carolina, the Corps reported that sand mining in CBRA units in Masonboro Inlet/Banks Channel reduced down drift sediments reaching Masonboro Island, contributing to erosion of the island, which is vitally important to sea turtles and shorebirds like the American Oystercatcher and Wilson Plovers,” PEER wrote in a summary of their argument.

Last Summer, the USACE approved an emergency CBRA exemption to meet Wrightsville Beach’s immediate renourishment needs with sands from Masonboro Inlet. Commissioner Rob Zapple attended the meeting Wednesday and told Port City Daily he similarly supported the CBRA exemption for Masonboro Inlet; commissioners and Wilmington city council voted unanimously to endorse H.R. 524 in March 2023.

Zapple argued Wrightsville Beach has already used sand from Masonboro Inlet for many years without causing ecological degradation. He stated using sand from offshore sites could disturb marine life and would cost millions more than restoration projects with nearby inlets.

The commissioner spoke in favor of restoration funding as a means to shield local towns from storm damage and ensure the region’s tourism base.

“So it’s an investment to keep not only the beaches looking good but to protect, in our case, the coastal society on Wrightsville Beach down here,” he said. “Same thing is true with Carolina Beach and Kure Beach.”

Rouzer’s other efforts to gain federal resources for local renourishment projects include the 2022 Wrightsville Beach Storm Damage Reduction Project, a provision in the 2022 Water Resources Development Act, and emergency funding from the Office of Management and Budget in 2023.

“It saves property, it saves lives when storms come through,” Rouzer said. “It is so critically important to the local economy here that every small business on this island, every business in this county is directly affected by the number of tourists and visitors that come and enjoy our beaches.” 

Updates on USACE’s Wrightsville Beach renourishment projects are available here.


Tips or comments? Email journalist Peter Castagno at peter@localdailymedia.com.

Want to read more from PCD? Subscribe now and then sign up for our morning newsletter, Wilmington Wire, and get the headlines delivered to your inbox every morning.

Related Articles