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Tucked into DOD’s $858B bill, Rouzer cosponsors legislation for NC coastal nourishment

New legislation, to be signed into law by President Biden this week, includes provisions for Wrightsville Beach dredging, Southport erosion and a pilot mapping program for NC.

Posted on December 14, 2022

New legislation making its way to President Joe Biden’s desk this week includes multiple provisions that improve the coastal landscape of eastern North Carolina.

With a leg up from U.S. Rep. David Rouzer (NC-07), the Tar Heel State’s shorelines will benefit from a new pilot program. New Hanover County’s beach communities will save on nourishment projects and the City of Southport will receive shoreline restoration.

On Dec. 8, the U.S. House of Representatives passed House Bill 7776, which also funds the Department of Defense for fiscal year 2023. Piggy-backed into the legislation, the Water Resources Development Act of 2022 was approved.

The WRDA — introduced every two years since its first version in 2014 — included priorities championed by Rouzer, the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee leader.

“What’s so important about that piece of legislation is that it’s done in a bipartisan fashion,” Rouzer told Port City Daily on a call Monday. “It really makes a big difference in terms of the [U.S.] Army Corps’ ability to respond and carry out the intentions of Congress.”

It was approved 384-37.

The Army Corps of Engineers handles water-related projects in the country and decides which ones get done in what order.

All of the included legislative provisions came from feedback from Rouzer’s constituents in New Hanover, Brunswick, Pender, Bladen, Columbus, Robeson and parts of Cumberland counties.

“[We] do a roundtable with mayors in the district to identify their needs and issues,” Rouzer said.

Within the WRDA, Rouzer enacted a pilot program for the state, which involves coastal mapping to address debris and sediment that has built up as a result of hurricanes Matthew and Florence and other large storms.

“To address the problem, it helps to understand where we have issues as far as drainage,” Rouzer said, “and understand what the choke points are.”

The program will use drones and advanced technology to map waterways, including creeks and streams farther inland. The Army Corps used to monitor smaller, inland waterways for dredging when the majority of goods traveled via waterways. Rouzer said that practice started to slow after the ‘60s when the interstate highway system became the preferred source of travel for commercial shipping.

Flooding causes debris to build out in rivers and creeks, which needs to be cleaned to clear the way for water to disperse.

Following the mapping, which Rouzer said could begin in the coming year and take up to two years to complete, a feasibility study would be conducted to determine how exactly to address problem areas.

“Inland flooding is a serious problem for eastern North Carolina,” Rouzer said. “An even bigger problem due to population growth. What used to be natural land is now rooftops; rather than hitting the ground, the water hits the roof, goes into a storm drain and into a creek.”

Once signed into law, funds will be appropriated to implement the pilot program over the next three to five years.

“Congress talks in billions and trillions,” Rouzer said. “This will be in the low millions. Shouldn’t be an incredible amount.”

There is also a cost-savings option for Wrightsville, Carolina and Kure beaches. In 2021, the Department of the Interior changed the rules for dredging in the coastal communities to not allow sand to be used from the Masonboro and Carolina Beach inlets — areas typically used to renourish the beaches.

Carolina Beach and Kure beaches identified offshore sites to draw sand from during this past year’s nourishment cycle — typically occurring every three years — but Wrightsville’s has yet to be approved.

Rouzer explained it’s more expensive to use offshore sites for dredging, as opposed to taking sand from “its natural resource.”

The new legislation requires the federal government to cover the added cost to use offshore sites, which in turn “saves the taxpayers,” Rouzer said. There is no set amount; however, the feds will cover whatever costs are associated with having to collect sand offshore.

The third main aspect to the WRDA spotlights the small coastal town of Southport.

“With all the ships coming through, especially container ships headed to the Port of Wilmington, and recreational traffic, it beats up their shorelines pretty good there,” Rouzer said.

According to an economic contribution study published by N.C. State Ports Authority in 2018, more than 950 ships travel to the Port of Wilmington and Port of Morehead City annually (prior to recent expansions allowing the terminals to handle more cargo tonnage).

The bill will authorize Southport to be included in protection and restoration efforts. This would include refortifying the shoreline, increasing resilience of the riverbank and repairing erosion.

“Authorization does not mean funding,” Rouzer clarified. “But because it’s specifically mentioned in this legislation, it would be highly unusual for the City of Southport to not be included in the [Army Corps’] future work plan.”

Southport has faced erosion issues from increased boat traffic for decades but hasn’t had the funds to implement mitigation strategies. It received a $5-million boost in 2021 for shoreline restoration work, but the new legislation will allow for larger-scale projects focused on reinforcing the city’s shoreline.

The Army Corps develops its “to-do” list of projects annually, based on federal appropriations. It prioritizes ones that have been specifically called out by Congress, Rouzer added.

Federal projects come with a local match, though the amount will not be known until money is appropriated.

Rouzer first helped draft the bill in May, co-sponsored by Transportation and Infrastructure Committee leader Sam Graves (R-MO). It was approved on the House floor in June. The Senate also drafted its version of the bill, and during the fall, leadership from both committees worked together to finalize the language.

The legislation was all rolled into the James M. Inhofe National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023, an $858 billion bill which Biden is expected to sign into law this week. It includes $45 billion more for defense programs, including a 4.6% pay raise for servicemembers. It also rescinds the Covid-19 vaccination mandate for active and reserve military.


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