September 14, 2015

Lawmakers compromise on Oregon Inlet dredging

The Dare County Board of commissioners and state Rep. Paul Tine jointly announced today that the General Assembly has reached a compromise on dredging for Oregon Inlet.

In a news release, they were careful to stress that this solution is a temporary one while Bonner Bridge is replaced.
"We are very glad that we have found a way to meet the immediate needs of keeping Oregon Inlet open while protecting vital beach nourishment projects that support our tourism economy," stated Chairman Bob Woodard.  There is still a lot of work to be done to determine a long term solution for meeting the local funding requirements for dredging, but we do have a path to keep Oregon Inlet open until Bonner Bridge is complete."

The solution has two components, according to the news release.

First the state budget, should it be adopted, will reduce the local match requirement for dredging from 50-50 to 1/3 local and 2/3 state. This change reduces Dare County's obligation by $1 million.

Second, an opinion issued by the legislative central staff, verifies that the currently authorized 2 cents occupancy tax for beach nourishment may be used for Oregon Inlet without legislative action.

Within the authorization for Dare County to collect the occupancy, the release said, is a provision allowing the money to be used to protect transportation corridors. As long as some of the sand is utilized to stabilize pilings for Bonner Bridge, or to shore up the groin which is in place to protect the southern landing of the bridge, the occupancy tax can be used to support the dredging project.
"Much of the opposition to using occupancy tax for dredging came from legitimate concerns that beach nourishment projects would be affected," said Rep. Tine. "With the state chipping in a bigger share, the pressure on these projects is lessened significantly.  I am very happy to say that the additional state funds for dredging will not be coming from new local boat fees. With this budget the state is recognizing that dredging supports our waterways which are part of our transportation network."

The budget includes increasing the transfer from Transportation from 1/6 of 1 percent to 1 percent of the Highway Fund ($13.1 million), a straight line appropriation from the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources ($1.6 million), and the existing boat fees that were implemented last session ($5.1 million). The budget also stipulates that tier 1 counties, such as Hyde, will only have to fund 1/4 of any project they initiate.

Both Woodard and Tine were quick to point out that this is a temporary solution until Bonner Bridge is replaced.

"This compromise gets us moving today," Woodard said "but it does not keep us from having to come up with a more permanent solution that will continuously fund dredging for both Hatteras and Oregon inlets for some time to come."

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