Local officials hoped to gain a new advocate in Washington with a rare opportunity to share concerns about the effect of federal funding and regulations on coastal management projects.
U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, Republican congressman from Pennsylvania’s 9th district and chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, traveled to Wrightsville Beach for a Aug. 29 roundtable discussion with leaders from New Hanover, Pender and Brunswick Counties.
Shuster traveled to southeastern North Carolina at the invitation of David Rouzer, Republican hopeful for North Carolina’s 7th congressional district. His visit marks the first time a chairman of the House committee, which oversees the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Coast Guard, has come to the area.
Rouzer and Shuster became acquainted when Congress worked through the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) earlier in 2014, which granted a three-year extension for federal authorization of Carolina Beach. Shuster said Rouzer was an advocate for the extension during negotiations of the law.
Dwindling federal funds and continued regulatory oversight were big concerns voiced by local leaders during the discussion.
Shuster acknowledged the impact of mounting national debt on funding available for coastal projects, but said infrastructure maintenance is one of the top federal priorities under the Constitution. He said the visit to North Carolina will help him understand the importance of coastal infrastructure when he returns to Washington.
“Of course, funding is a big issue. We have to prioritize in Washington where we spend the money. … I need to know firsthand. So seeing it, hearing it from the folks here, that’s very, very important and very valuable to me,” Shuster said.
To keep regulations in check, Shuster said balance between Congress and agencies operating under the executive branch, like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Division of Marine Fisheries, must be retained. He said that over time, the balance skewed as Congress handed authority to the administration.
“We raise the funds and we determine how the funds are spent. It’s the executive branch’s job to execute what we tell them to execute and again, we’ve given up this authority,” Shuster said.
Rouzer seconded Shuster’s explanation.
“The chairman was right. You’ve got to have more congressional oversight, and Congress can’t keep giving authority to the executive branch. Over a long period of time, Congress granted authority to the executive branch to take care of issues and then to do the kind of broad rulemaking that they’re doing now. We’ve got to swing the pendulum the other way and get it back to the center,” Rouzer said.
A handful of Wrightsville Beach community leaders attended, including Mayor Bill Blair, Town Manager Tim Owens, Mayor Pro Tem Darryl Mills, and Sue Bulluck. After the discussion, Wrightsville Beach town officials showed Shuster the benefits of renourishment from Johnnie Mercer’s Pier and the jetties controlling erosion in Masonboro Inlet.