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As flooding persists in western Emerald Isle, town seeks millions through federal grant program for filtration collaboration

Emerald Isle intends to apply for a federal grant that would pay for a flood prevention system to allow stormwater to be pumped into engineered drains in oceanfront dunes in a portion of the western part of town. (Brad Rich photo)

Posted on September 22, 2021

EMERALD ISLE — Emerald Isle commissioners Tuesday night voted 5-0 to authorize town manager Matt Zapp to send the federal government a letter of intent to apply for grant funds to cover a multi-million-dollar flood prevention project.

The vote came during the board’s monthly session in the meeting room on Highway 58 and virtually via GoToWebinar.

Mr. Zapp is planning to apply for Federal Emergency Management Agency Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities, or BRIC, money in an effort to reduce or eliminate future flooding risk and damages in Deerhorn Dunes, Pebble Beach, the Holiday Trav-L Park, Queens Court condominiums, Boardwalk RV Park and the Western Ocean Regional Access, all in the flood-prone, western end of town.

“It might be a $3- to $4- to $5-million project,” Mr. Zapp told commissioners.

In a memo to the board, he said if the town receives BRIC funds, officials will try to partner with N.C. State University to use “a proven approach to discharge stormwater by way of natural filtration” in oceanfront sand dunes and align the technique with the existing hazard mitigation and stormwater pumping plan. Emerald Isle has state approval under certain flooding conditions to pump stormwater into oceanfront dunes.

The BRIC program was created as part of the Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018 to fund projects that provide “innovative approaches to partnerships, such as shared funding mechanisms and/or project design.”

Mr. Zapp said in his letter of intent – required by FEMA before the agency will accept a formal application – he will stress the “innovative” approach of working with the university on the project, using natural infiltration of the stormwater. He mentioned Kure Beach, in New Hanover County, has done something similar.

On its website, Kure Beach officials state the town years ago embarked on a long-term strategy for dealing with stormwater and flooding problems.

“In 2007, the town adopted a Storm Water Ordinance,” the website states. “Between 2005 and 2007, the town collaborated with both N.C. State University and N.C. Department of Transportation to develop and install unique infiltration systems in the dune areas to capture the first one-half inch of rain and use the sand to filter the pollutants before the water discharges to the ocean. Monitoring of these systems have shown them to work as expected.”

In 2017, that town received a state grant to study the feasibility of installing more of those systems to improve water quality and protect the beach from additional risk of bacterial contaminants and other pollutants following a rain event.

According to Mr. Zapp’s memo, the total value of buildings and land in the anticipated project area in Emerald Isle is $228.9 million, including $137.5 million for the homes and businesses in the area along Coast Guard Road, Ocean Drive and Reed Drive from just east of Sand Castle Drive to well west of Islander Drive, the location of the WORA. The densely developed area includes the large Queens Court condominium development and the new mixed-use Village West residential and shopping complex. All of those are off Islander Drive. Along Coast Guard Road, there are numerous single-family developments.

The manager told the board NCSU “has great interest” in working on the project.

Emerald Isle has been grappling with stormwater problems, particularly in the Coast Guard Road corridor, for many years and has developed with consultants a stormwater management plan that divides proposals into specific project areas.

Officials have been hoping to receive FEMA money for individual projects.

Although the town already has an extensive stormwater drainage system for the Coast Guard Road corridor and there are private systems in some developments, town planning director Josh Edmondson told the board earlier this year too much flooding still occurs after thunderstorms, not just tropical storms and hurricanes.

Commissioner Mark Taylor made the motion Tuesday authorizing Mr. Zapp to send FEMA the letter of intent.


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