As part of a three-prong approach to secure funds for beach renourishment projects, the Wrightsville Beach Board of Aldermen will draft a letter supporting a New Hanover County plan to directly request from Congress an extension of federal funding for projects at Carolina and Wrightsville beaches.
The letter is part of a contingency plan in case the Army Corps of Engineers doesn’t include local beach renourishment projects in its report to Congress, New Hanover County Shoreline Coordinator Layton Bedsole told the board.
Designed to be a 50-year project when federal money was authorized in 1986, the Army Corps of Engineers underestimated costs for beach storm damage reduction projects and Town Manager Tim Owens told the council he expects funding to last only through two more cycles of beach renourishment in 2018 and 2022.
The county is working on three plans consecutively, all designed to secure continued federal funding, Bedsole said. The first is to see the funding included in a potential future Water Resource Development Act, which he said could be considered by Congress in 2016. Next is to improve the county’s own permitting process. And lastly, current legislation allows for the beach renourishment project to be extended, but only if the county first meets certain criteria.
A key consideration for continued federal support is the Army Corps of Engineers’ economic analysis, which looks to rate the benefit to cost ratio, Bedsole said. The Corps is working on its analysis now, he said. If the county can produce a competitive ratio, it will be added to a validation report that would be used in Congress for deciding what projects to fund in a future WRDA bill.
“This is a critical part of the path forward,” Bedsole told the board. “That’s a huge endeavor.”
By formally asking Congress to support increased funding of the beach renourishment project, Wrightsville Beach will be joining with New Hanover County and Carolina Beach in a show of support that local delegations can use should Congress consider a new Water Resource Development Act. The letter would make use of part of the law, known as Section 7001, allowing non-federal entities to propose projects, Bedsole said.
“While the same time the Corps is doing its process, we’re going to take a crack at the 7001 approach,” Bedsole said, adding the letter would serve as a “placeholder” in federal legislation that local congressional delegations can reference when lobbying for extending the beach renourishment project.
In the third part of the plan, the county can try to use language in current law to obtain a 15-year extension of the Carolina Beach project, since it would be the first to expire. However, before it can do that, the county has to have a risk management plan. Bedsole told the board the county is currently negotiating with a coastal engineering team on the scope of the study, but it will include refined onshore and offshore sand movement modeling.
Bedsole said the modeling was important “so that we begin managing the sand resource as wisely as possible, as quickly as possible.”
The second part of the plan will involve the county to require its own permitting process. Bedsole said he is reviewing draft documents and permit applications now and will begin submitting those to resource agencies in the fall.
Mayor Bill Blair asked if Masonboro Inlet dredging would be included in the Corps’ benefit-to-cost ratio for beach renourishment projects.
“If they put it together, that could hurt us,” Blair said.
Bedsole said he wasn’t sure, but believed the dredging was under a transportation program that was different from the beach renourishment project.
Alderman Lisa Weeks asked if the Jones Act, which requires “buy American” certification for federal spending, would apply to the project.
In other board news, the town will apply again for federal funding to help elevate high-risk, historic homes that have repeatedly been awarded claims from the National Flood Insurance Program.
The board approved applying for grants for up to 10 houses. The town has already received responses to three letters of interest it has sent to local homeowners, Owens said, adding the town’s flood maps have been reduced in recent years, which could help the application process.
The town applied for 12 houses in 2014 and though its application was approved, the funding wasn’t available. However, fund are expected to be ready this year, Owens said, and the town is still eligible for the program.