Posted on May 3, 2023
In the wake of a three-year study of Currituck County beaches that was published in January, some county officials appear to be divided on what the next steps should be or even if additional steps are needed.
The study by Coastal Protection Engineering (CPE) looked at changes to 22.6 miles of shoreline along the Currituck Banks, the area from the Dare County line to the Virginia state line at Carova.
In discussing homes at risk, the report stated that “In total, 158 houses were shown to be impacted over the 30-year horizon throughout the Corolla Section. These houses are all located between the Horse Gate and Wave Arch in the Ocean Lake community,” the report noted.
In Currituck, the only coastal county in North Carolina that has not nourished its beaches, the report seemed to spur a sense of urgency. Shortly after its release, Currituck Commissioner Chair Bob White indicated that beach nourishment is a real option.
“We’re going have to do something is the bottom line. We can’t get to the point where Kitty Hawk did…where we have stuff dropping in the ocean and lose that tax base and people’s investment in Currituck,” said White, a Corolla resident. “We have to do something now.”
In early March, however, Currituck County Commissioner Paul Beaumont wrote a series of three Facebook posts calling into question the validity of the study, writing that “the conclusion and recommendations presented I felt were premature and incomplete.”
Among other concerns, Beaumont felt using Hurricane Isabel (2003) as a model for potential storm damage was flawed, observing that “What is not clear is…what made Isabel a 20-year storm.” The reality, he added, is that “we in Currituck do not see enough hurricanes to have or reasonably apply statistical analysis.”
Included in Beaumont’s assessment was the suggestion that some form of hardened offshore structure could be more effective against beach erosion, although he acknowledged that current regulations forbid that. The Shawboro resident also asserted that mainland Currituck County property owners would bear the tax burden of a nourishment project.
“In conclusion, I do not believe Currituck has gathered enough data to warrant large scale beach nourishment planning,” he wrote.
Beaumont also took the position that sand dunes are effective in protecting property and infrastructure, writing that, “The sand dune system is our greatest line of defense against the ocean.”
But Ken Willson, CPE Senior Project and Program Manager, countered that it is a healthy beach that creates the protection, not the dunes. “If you didn’t have any dry sand in front of that to break up the waves, that dune would get chewed up pretty quickly,” he said.
And an NC State Extension Service publication, Restoration and Management of Coastal Dune Vegetation wrote that, “Although dunes serve as temporary protective barriers during storm tides of short duration, they are not effective against persistent beach recession caused by rising sea level, migrating inlets, or changing shoreline dynamics.”
Asked about Beaumont’s Facebook posts, White was critical, saying, “It just makes me mad because he doesn’t speak for the board of commissioners. He’s speaking for Paul. If he wants to have a dissenting view, that’s fine. But he didn’t even notice to notify the board of commissioners…It’s disheartening.”
In addition, White disagreed with Beaumont’s contention that the mainland would see an increase in property tax if nourishment were approved. He pointed out that the combination of occupancy tax revenue and using the Dare County model of Municipal Service Districts would be sufficient to pay for a nourishment.
In a phone interview, Beaumont discussed his point that occupancy tax revenue was an inadequate source of funding for beach nourishment.
“We’re already using that for fire, emergency management, law enforcement. So by the time the committed funds are used up, clearly occupancy tax isn’t going to be the solution,” he said.
White told the Voice that he had just come from a meeting with Corolla residents where he told them that there was not political support for having the mainland property owners pay for beach nourishment.
The crux of Beaumont’s argument appears to be that beach nourishment is unnecessary at this time and under any circumstances is “a very expensive temporary solution.” And he opposes the idea of “renting sand,” adding that “If there’s a need for a fix, let’s pursue a fix. If, in fact, the beaches are threatened and if, in fact, it makes monetary sense, then let’s research a fix, not just sand, which is a band aid.”
For White, though, the primary concern is whether or not the county can afford to not do something.
“Our oceanfront is worth somewhere around $800 or $900 million. Just oceanfront. We’re not talking little bitty salt boxes that are dropping in the ocean. You can’t replace that tax base. And people come here for nice beaches. If we don’t have them, they’re going somewhere else,” he said.
Furthering that point, Corolla resident Ed Cornet, who taught at the UNC Flagler School of Business, wrote a 2022 analysis of the economic impact of the Corolla beach on Currituck County stating that, “The beach’s private investment value generates about half of Currituck’s property tax revenues for general fund uses. In addition, rental income from the more than 25,000 bedrooms generates about 99% of the county’s Occupancy Tax revenues.”