Wrightsville sand-funding fixes in progress

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Efforts are underway by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to complete reports that could impact the future of federal funding for Wrightsville Beach’s coastal storm damage reduction, or beach renourishment, project.

New Hanover County Shore Protection Coordinator Layton Bedsole updated the Wilmington-New Hanover Port, Waterway  and Beach Commission on the Corps’ plans during a March 11 meeting. The first step, he said, is completing an updated benefit-cost ratio for the project, analyzing the amount of money spent and the amount of potential damages avoided by rebuilding Wrightsville’s strand every four years.

Modeling is scheduled to begin in March to further analyze the project’s costs, which totaled around $9 million in 2014, and the benefits, which include recreation and reduced erosion and floodplain damage. The Corps plans to finish the benefit-cost ratio in August or September and send a final economic report up the Corps’ chain of command by early 2016, in time to request funds for the next scheduled storm mitigation project in 2018.

The Wrightsville project is federally authorized — eligible to receive federal financial assistance that has historically totaled 65 percent of the project cost. The benefit-cost ratios are expected to influence whether the federal government awards contribute funds for future projects.

The report will cost about $333,000 to complete. Under a cost-share agreement like the one in place for the renourishment project, the federal government will pay 65 percent of the total cost, with the N.C. Division of Water Resources and the local room occupancy tax splitting the remaining 35 percent, about $58,000 each.

The benefit-cost ratio will later be factored into the validation report, a tool needed to address a maximum project cost outlined in Section 902 of the 1986 Water Resources Development Act that limits the cost of the project to $34.5 million over its 50-year authorization.

Federal, state and local costs to complete seven projects since 1986 have totaled about $22 million, leaving a little more than $12 million to last through 2036 — enough to pay for projects in 2018 and 2022 only before the fund is depleted.

Bedsole said stakeholders from the county and Wrightsville Beach have expressed concern to the Corps about completing the report by 2016, when the next Water Resources Development Act, a bill passed by Congress every few years outlining upcoming coastal management project needs, is expected. U.S. Rep. David Rouzer, R-N.C., has confirmed a 2016 bill could include a fix for the Wrightsville Beach cost cap.

“We’d love to be able to get all this done to include it in a 2016 Water Resources Development Act,” Bedsole said.

The Corps is waiting to tackle the validation report until the benefit-cost ratio is further underway. If the validation report is not complete in time for a 2016 bill, a solution could be secured as late as 2021, Bedsole noted.

“We’ve got that much time to get that [Section] 902 [cap]increased. The sooner we get it increased, the better we are. It is critical, but we’ve got a little bit of time,” Bedsole said.

email miriah@luminanews.com

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