North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed a 2017 budget July 14 that was touted for its raise in teacher salary, but also included a provision that could help Wrightsville Beach and other beach towns persuade the state legislature to fund beach renourishment projects.
The $22.3 billion budget includes funding for the Division of Coastal Management, the Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Commerce to study readily available data and existing studies on the physical, economic and public safety benefits of coastal storm damage reduction and beach renourishment projects. The report is due by Nov. 1.
Local political leaders said the study was necessary to help make the case to the North Carolina General Assembly that beach renourishment funding benefits the state’s overall economy, not just the coastal areas.
With concerns that federal monies for beach sands funding will dry up in coming years, North Carolina’s beach communities, including Wrightsville Beach, have been looking to establish a dedicated revenue source from the state legislature. To keep a sizeable beach strand that can support tourism, county beach towns require sand be blown back onto the beach every three to four years.
North Carolina Senator Michael Lee, R-District 9, said the work on beach renourishment builds on the progress coastal communities made in the prior session with a dedicated funding source for shallow draft inlet dredging.
“We’re dipping our toe into the pool on beach renourishment,” Lee said. “It’s the same concept as the shallow draft inlet fund, but with some modifications. The study on the economic impact of beach renourisment will be part of the state’s beach inlet management plan.”
Wrightsville Beach Mayor Pro Tem Darryl Mills, a member of the county’s Port, Waterway and Beach Commission, said the study would be particularly helpful in convincing property owners who live outside of Wrightsville Beach make a case to state legislators in the central and western parts of North Carolina.
“If you have coastal property, the issue of beach renourishment is very important to you,” Mills said. “With this report, they have some hard data to show the general assembly and make the case in other parts of the state.”
Mills said that there have already been several studies done on the impact that coastal tourism and activities have on the state economy, but that they are disparate and not easy for beach renourishment advocates to use.
“There’s all sorts of information out there,” Mills said. “This study should compile it together so that it’s all in one place.”
North Carolina Representative Ted Davis, Jr., R-District 19, said that legislation passed this session would also change how a city or town can set up a municipal service district, which Wilmington has considered using to improve services downtown. A municipal service district lets a city or town establish a special tax for special projects and Davis said some areas have used these districts to raise funding for beach renourishment. It’s not an option that Wrightsville Beach is currently considering, as parking and room occupancy tax proceeds have been used to set up a fund to prepare the town for beach renourishment costs.
DarrDavis said the biggest accomplishment of the 2016 “short session” of the general assembly was the raise in teacher and school administrator pay.
The budget raised teacher pay by an average of 4.7 percent and school administrator pay by 1.5 percent, Davis said, adding that the state House of Representatives had to fight the Senate for the pay increases.
“I’m thrilled we’re doing this,” Davis said. “The House of Representatives has been pushing for this. We dug our heels in and fought for it. There’s still a whole lot to be done, but I’m thrilled that we’re making the progress that we are. I know what impact teachers have.”
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