The Carolina Beach Inlet Association unveiled the results of an economic analysis of the inlet during an Aug. 5 presentation, which members plan to use as a tool to demonstrate the value of local contributions needed to keep the inlet dredged and navigable.
The analysis concluded the inlet generates $68 million in impact to the county economy. Comparing the impact of the inlet at a fully maintained depth and the shallower but navigable depth to which it is currently maintained, the analysis suggested the countywide impact of the inlet would grow by $8 million if it was dredged and maintained at eight feet deep.
Captain Robert Schoonmaker, Carolina Beach Inlet Association president, said the inlet has not been kept at optimal navigability for 15 years, and facing no steady funding stream in recent years, the inlet has been minimally maintained.
“Over the past three years, Carolina Beach Inlet has been in an emergency dredging situation. I like to coin the phrase that it’s been maintained just dangerous enough to where they haven’t taken the buoys out of the inlet,” Schoonmaker said.
Dr. Chris Dumas, economics professor at University of North Carolina Wilmington, presented the analysis. Dumas worked with Dr. John Whitehead, economics professor at Appalachian State University, to update an earlier study by interpreting existing data using input-output analysis to track money as it moved through the local economy.
Dumas estimated potential losses to the county economy at $18 million if the inlet was not dredged and allowed to shoal to a depth of four feet or less.
Dumas said the results support the claim that inlets are infrastructure, allowing access to public resources like bridges and highways.
Schoonmaker said if a steady source of funding was available, it would be cheaper to sustain the full depth at a lower cost. He hoped the conclusions of the updated study would convince local officials, particularly at the county level, to realize the return of money invested in the inlet.
Elected representatives from local and state governments attended, including Rep. Ted Davis, R-New Hanover; New Hanover County Commissioners Jonathan Barfield and Thomas Wolfe plus Vice-Chair Beth Dawson; and Wrightsville Beach Mayor Bill Blair and Mayor Pro Tem Darryl Mills.
David Rouzer, former state Senator and candidate for U.S. House of Representatives, was also in attendance. Barfield and Rouzer will vie for the 7th Congressional District seat in the November election.
Davis explained how legislation he shepherded through the General Assembly’s 2014 short session will secure some funds needed to keep the inlet dredged.
A 2013 law allowed local communities to tap into state funds if a dollar-for-dollar match is provided. Realizing communities need help to assemble the local match, Davis pushed through a bill allowing communities to tap a portion of unused room occupancy tax (ROT) collected in unincorporated areas of the county for shallow-draft inlet dredging.
The law sets aside more than $1 million currently sitting in the fund and one-third of annual proceeds for tourism-related activities, including inlet dredging. The unincorporated ROT pulls in approximately $150,000 per year.
Carolina Beach Inlet is dredged quarterly to stay navigable. The annual local match for the project is $400,000. To keep the inlet maintained at full depth, the annual local match for the project is $500,000.
While available funds secured by Davis will not fully fund the dollar-for-dollar match needed, New Hanover County Manager Chris Coudriet said the bill will help relieve claims staked on property taxes collected by the county, City of Wilmington and beach towns.
“We’re a lot better today because of this legislation than we were 60 days ago,” Coudriet said.