Despite prior Congressional approval, local beach nourishment projects left out of federal funding

Updated: Mar. 29, 2021 at 11:22 AM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Every few years beach towns in the region undertake massive earth-moving projects to restore shorelines in the Cape Fear Region. The projects are typically spearheaded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and cost millions of dollars. They are generally funded by federal, state, and local sources but this year, despite initial hope that federal funding would be provided to New Hanover County beach towns in 2021, the USACE Work Plan for this year has left them out of the plan.

It’s a problem that has left the county, as well as beach towns searching for funding to ensure the protection of their shorelines. The lack of New Hanover County beaches on the USACE’s plan comes as a surprise, especially since in December of 2020 Senator Thom Tillis announced funding for beach nourishments included in the stopgap spending and pandemic relief bill passed then.

According to a release from the office of Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), the spending bill included authorization for continued federal support of beach renourishment projects in Wrightsville, Carolina, and Kure Beaches, authorizing $53.8 million in federal funding for use over the remaining lifetime of the Wrightsville Beach renourishment project. It also authorizes a 15-year extension of the beach renourishment project at Carolina and Kure Beaches, providing $24.2 million set to begin in 2022.

“When Congress authorized the legislation late last year, I’ll note that in his press release Senator Tillis specified that Congress’ intent was to authorize and fully fund the projects for this year and then the Corps work plan came out - the administration after it gets funding can choose how it chooses to spend its money and we were surprised and disappointed when we saw that we were not on the final work plan,” Tim Buckland Intergovernmental Affairs Manager for New Hanover County said.

For Carolina Beach Town Manager Bruce Oakley, the news came as a surprise but, he is hopeful funding will be provided.

“The funding for our Coastal Storm Damage Reduction (beach nourishment) was not appropriated in the Congressional spending bill that was approved in December. We remain cautiously optimistic that federal funds will be found or will be appropriated through other measures and that the project can proceed as scheduled. We are also working closely with our federal, state, county, and municipal partners and discussing all options,” he said.

Buckland said he too is hopeful that funding will be authorized for these projects so they could get underway as early as November of 2021, and be completed by March of 2022. County commissioners have prioritized beach renourishment funding and Buckland said they are supportive of the state maintaining a fund to help beach towns provided the critical infrastructure services in case federal funding does run out in the future.

“Should the federal government ever decide to not fund these projects any longer, having a state resource is appropriate because these costs are too prohibitive for a local government to pay for on their own,” he said.

As an example, for Wrightsville Beach beach nourishment projects range from $8 million and up.

“We are exploring options through federal, state and local officials. Also, that we were omitted from the Corps of Engineers work plan is being looked into and with the goal of rectifying that omission, if possible,” Wrightsville Beach Mayor Darryl Mills said.

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