North Carolina could be looking into a budgetary abyss if local and
state entities don’t adapt quickly to new funding realities.
“With this new administration, it’s not going to be business as usual,”
Kathleen Riely, executive director of North Carolina Beach, Inlet and
Waterways Association, said at the nonprofit’s annual meeting held last
week. “I cannot emphasize enough, if the state doesn’t have skin in the
game, we will be passed over for coastal funds, I can tell you that.”
two-day summit at Jennette’s Pier featured numerous presentations about
coastal projects and concerns, including water resources and
management, dredging and beach nourishment, floodplain mapping,
homeowners insurance and the economic and environmental value of oyster
But to those who filled the large-windowed meeting room overlooking the
beach – representatives from local governments, nonprofits and state
and federal agencies – headaches over funding was the overarching theme.
“The whole scene is changing beneath our feet, not just at the federal
level, but at the state level,” said James Leutze, the association’s
chairman. “Believe me, it’s going to change and we need to be prepared
for that change.”
Even though the 2017 federal budget continuing resolution is the most
immediate unknown – the deadline is the end of April – there are also
worries for future coastal budgets, said Derek Brockbank, executive
director of the nonprofit American Shore and Beach Preservation
to Brockbank’s presentation, the president’s proposed budget would
eliminate the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coastal
Zone Management Program, Sea Grant, the Environmental Protection
Agency’s Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health, or BEACH,
Act programs, water quality monitoring and coastal resilience grants.
The spending plan would also cut funds for the Army Corps of Engineers,
other NOAA programs and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
But funding potentially could be found under a cloak of another color:
the much anticipated and yet-to-be-seen $1 trillion infrastructure
bill. If the question is “What is in the infrastructure package?”
Brockbank said, then the answer can be, “Whatever you want it to be.”
Of course, infrastructure would include roads and bridges, he said. But
it could just as well include beaches, dunes and wetlands.
The American Shore association is calling for $5 billion over the next
10 years for “shore infrastructure” projects. Some proposals to fund
the overall infrastructure package have included tolling,
private-public partnerships and tax credits. But no one expects to see
a lot of federal dollars.
“The bottom line is beach programs are not going to pay for
themselves,” Brockbank said “Again, this is so wrapped up in the
broader political dynamic happening right now.”
On the other hand, he added, the good thing an infrastructure bill has going for it is that it has bipartisan appeal.
Both sides of the aisle are also represented in the House’s
Congressional Coastal Communities Caucus, which has about 35 members
representing both parties, liberals and conservatives, he said.
Former Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., is also putting together a coastal
consortium that will work on creating a coastal infrastructure spending
bill to present at the appropriate time.
But Brockbank warned that coastal interests are up against the Washington, D.C., trend to starve the federal bureaucracy.
“Be that squeaky wheel – call your senators,” he said. “Invite them to your beach in August.”
Congress members are not the only people who appreciate the beach.
Information culled from the 2016 update of the state’s Beach and Inlet
Management Plan – better known as the BIMP – show that about 46 percent
of the 56,000 property owners on barrier islands in North Carolina have
their primary residence outside the eight coastal counties.
Launched in 2009, the BIMP uses physical and economic data to devise
management plans for the state’s beaches and inlets. The baseline is
updated every two years, or as data becomes available.
The latest BIMP update, which was approved in December 2016, calculated
coastal property value in North Carolina at about $110 billion. Of
that, about 17 percent is owned by non-coastal North Carolina residents
and about 24 percent by residents of other states.
Direct expenditures for beach- and marine-related activities statewide
in the 2016 report totaled about $2.5 billion; output, sales and
business activity totaled about $6.1 billion. The update also shows
that millions of dollars in revenue and job value have been lost with
inadequate maintenance of beaches and inlets.
“It’s a very strong argument that investing in coastal infrastructure
is a big return on investment for the state,” Riely said in a phone
interview after the meeting.
association’s position is that healthy wetlands, wide beaches, deep
inlets and tall dunes reduce storm risk to roads and buildings and
people on the coast. At the same time, natural beaches and waterways
offer recreational, economic and environmental assets for residents and
Cost shares for state and local matching funds for shoreline projects
and storm losses, according to the 2016 BIMP, are estimated at $40
million to $50 million annually. The state needs about $23.5 million a
year in its fund for shallow-draft dredging projects; $17.5 million for
deep-draft projects; and $20 million to $35 million for beach
The ongoing costs justify creation of a dedicated beach preservation
fund, the report said. It also recommended creating a regional
cooperative among coastal counties.
The future of coastal protection projects will entail a lot more than
just putting sand on the beaches, Riely said. The focus now is more on
projects that impede storm damage and create resilience, such as
construction of engineered dunes.
The association has taken no position on sea-level rise or climate
change, she said. But overall, it supports the recommendations made in
With the days of generous federal cost-share dollars part of the misty
past, Riely said it is imperative that North Carolina establish a
dedicated beach preservation fund. That way, when federal money becomes
available, the cost share is already in hand.
Both New Jersey and Florida have fat, dedicated accounts that are
funded by real estate transfer fees. Delaware and Louisiana also have
dedicated beach funds.
In today’s competitive climate for fewer funding crumbs, that puts North Carolina at a disadvantage.
“We need to be positioned so it’s good for our coast,” Riely said. “We need to get the state on board.”