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Cape Fear coast gets a helping (financial) hand from a friend in Washington

Posted on January 11, 2023

Christmas came early for some coastal communities and inland areas of Southeastern North Carolina thanks to U.S. Rep. David Rouzer.

The Republican, who represents the region in Congress, inserted language in the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2022 that provides more funds to support beach nourishment projects in New Hanover County’s three beach towns; create a new pilot program to document and eventually remove debris clogging inland waterways; and helps Southport in Brunswick County stabilize its battered shoreline.

“This bill has probably done more for Southeastern North Carolina then we’ve seen in a long, long time,” said Rouzer, who is the leading Republican on the U.S. House’s Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee − and will soon became the committee’s chairman when the GOP takes over the House in January.

The WRDA bill was tacked on to the massive $858 billion National Defense Authorization Act, which funds the Pentagon and a host of other federal and foreign aid programs. The legislation received broad bipartisan support and was signed by President Biden in the days before Christmas.

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For Wrightsville, Carolina and Kure beaches, the bill provides additional funding for beach nourishment projects to help cover increased costs associated with a government decision forcing the towns to seek new borrow sites.

The U.S. Department of Interior has told the Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the nourishment projects, that sand from areas within Coastal Barrier Resource Area (CBRA) zones can no longer be used for beach nourishment projects − even though the towns have used sites near Masonboro and Carolina Beach inlets as sources of sand for decades.

The purpose of CBRA is to discourage development by prohibiting the expenditure of federal dollars on projects in hazardous coastal areas. That includes money for infrastructure and road projects, participation in the National Flood Insurance Program, and shoreline stabilization projects – including taking sand from inside CBRA areas for beach nourishment projects outside of them. But that last part hasn’t been universally enforced over the decades under previous administrations.

That’s forced the towns to look to areas offshore for sand, driving up the cost of the projects.

“This will make sure those extra costs that they’re having to should to go offshore for their sand will be covered by the federal government, so the local taxpayers aren’t on the hook for that,” Rouzer said.

The beach nourishment projects for the New Hanover towns generally occur every three years, and all three were scheduled to take place last winter to avoid conflicting with nesting seabirds, turtles and visiting tourists during the busy summer season. But while the two Pleasure Island towns did get their sand, Wrightsville Beach’s project is still on hold due to complications tied to finding a new offshore sand source and making sure it is environmentally safe and feasible. This comes as the town’s beach, especially in the middle part of the island, is showing serious signs of erosion and degradation.

Town officials have said they hope to see fresh sand pumped on the beach in late winter 2023 if everything falls into place.

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Washing away

Also getting a shot in the arm thanks to Rouzer is Southport.

Language in the WRDA legislation adds the Brunswick County town to be added to the corps’ restoration and protection efforts. Southport’s shoreline has been hit hard in recent years by the spate of hurricanes and other tropical weather systems that have hit Southeastern North Carolina. But it is the daily battering by the huge container ships traversing the Cape Fear River to and from the Port of Wilmington on top of the ferry and leisure craft that ply the river and Intracoastal Waterway that have really eaten away at the shoreline.

Rouzer cautioned that just because Southport is authorized to be added to the corps’ list of projects doesn’t mean funding is guaranteed.

“But it would be highly unusual for Southport not to be included in the corps’ future work plan,” he said.

City officials have said that as a small community they are struggling to fund the work on their own, even with the help of legislators in Raleigh and emergency federal funds tied to damage from recent storms.

Arguably the provision in the legislation that will have the biggest impact on Southeastern North Carolina, and the state as a whole, is language that creates a pilot program to look at mapping and eventually removing debris that has washed into the state’s waterways due to recent storms.

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Rouzer said getting debris out of the region’s creeks, rivers and other waterways was the top priority local officials told him when asked what they could do to better prepare and handle future flooding events.

“Yes, we get flooding at the coast, but there we have places for the water to go − the ocean, the river and Intracoastal Waterway,” he said. “In some of these inland areas, there’s no place for the water to go, and that can lead to massive flooding problems. This program should be able to make significant improvements for a lot of these communities.”

Eastern North Carolina has been hit by massive widespread flooding events in recent years, especially with Hurricanes Matthew in 2016 and Florence in 2018 − with some areas getting hit by both record-setting storms.

According to Rouzer, the pilot program will use advanced technology to map waterways well inland to identify “choke points.” The mapping is expected to take up to two years, followed by a feasibility study on the best way to address the problems.

“When it comes to flooding there are a lot of factors at play beyond just how much rain we get, including population growth, development and how the local drainage systems work,” he said. “But getting debris out of those waterways will be a big step forward in improving those situations.”


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