There was plenty of news this week about the Buxton beach nourishment project — none of it probably particularly welcomed by the folks in north Buxton.
Dare County confirmed this afternoon in a news release that the project will not happen until next year.
Yesterday, the county opened bids from four companies who are interested in the project. The companies were asked to submit two bids– one for work to be completed by December 2016 and the other for work to be completed by 2017.
Only two companies bid on the work for this year — and both bids were 50 percent more than the construction budget of 22.96 million. Weeks Marine came in at $34.1 million and Dutra Group at $33.9 million.
All four companies bid on the work for next year, and the county said today that Weeks Marine is the “lowest responsible” bidder at $22.15 million. The other bids ranged from $29.8 million to $48.7 million.
This is a great disappointment for Hatteras islanders, especially for north Buxton property owners, whose homes and businesses are getting regularly pounded by the ocean during even minor northeasters.
It’s also a disappointment to county officials and to all of the state and federal agencies that worked at warp speed to get the project permitted in time for a start date this summer.
When the county got serious about the project about two years ago, no one who had ever been involved with permitting a project like Buxton nourishment believed that 2016 was even a possibility.
The most important permit was a special use permit from the National Park Service, which owns the Buxton beaches. Park Service policy generally does not favor nourishment on its beaches, but NPS Southeast Regional Director Stan Austin told the county in June 2014 that the agency would consider issuing a permit in the case of north Buxton, since the area had already been altered by human activities and structures and because the project was to protect Highway 12.
Still getting through all the required environmental studies in about 18 months time was thought by some to be all but impossible.
However, with a great deal of cooperation among the county and the federal and state agencies involved, it did happen. Dare County had all of the permits in hand by March.
David Hallac, superintendent of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, said recently that he’s never seen a project move so quickly through the Park Service’s permitting process.
The fact that no bids came even close to budget was not particularly a surprise to county officials.
Three of the county’s municipalities — Duck, Kill Devil Hills, and Kitty Hawk — are also planning beach nourishment projects and had hoped to do them this summer. The first round of bidding on those projects also came in way over budget and the projects were put out for a second round of bidding.
The second time, the towns got a bid within budget, but it was also for work next year.
Meanwhile, the Dare County Board of Commissioners is trying to decide who should pay for the nourishment project.
Most of the money will come from the county’s beach nourishment fund, whose coffers are filled by a 2 percent occupancy tax paid by visitors who rent accommodations.
However, in the northern towns, officials are asking all property owners to shoulder some of the financial burden — with the oceanfront property owners paying more than the others.
The Dare commissioners have made it clear that they think it’s only fair that Hatteras islanders pay part of the cost of the Buxton project. The board has made it clear that they do not believe that Buxton property owners can pay anywhere near the approximately 25 percent of the cost that the taxpayers in the northern towns are shouldering.
Let me digress here for a word to commenters on this website who say that it is the Department of Transportation’s responsibility to protect Highway 12. You won’t get any argument about that from me, most Hatteras islanders, or even the commissioners.
But the state, which paid for nourishing the beach at the S-curves and north Rodanthe to protect the highway has chosen — for whatever reason — not to step up to the plate in Buxton. Last year, Bob Woodard, chairman of the Board of Commissioners, asked the Governor Pat McCrory in several letters to declare a state of emergency in north Buxton. He didn’t. Apparently, the state intends to wait until the road is washed out or an inlet forms in the area.
Now, back to who will pay.
The commissioners proposed to create a special district for the purpose of taxing the 35 oceanfront properties in north Buxton to help pay for the project. The total value of the properties is $16.8 million.
After a public hearing on the proposed service district last Monday, the board decided to consider expanding the service district — or creating more than one service district.
So, now in addition to the 35 oceanfront properties, another 255 or so property owners in north Buxton could find themselves paying more taxes.
There is a link at the end of this blog to the county’s map of properties now under consideration. And here’s a breakdown of the additional properties under consideration now by the board:
- The triangle bordered by Old Lighthouse Road, Highway 12, and the ocean. This are would include 134 properties, valued at $39.5 million.
- All properties in an area bordered by Lighthouse Road (the Park Service road), Highway 12, and the oceanfront. This would include Diamond Shoals Estates, the old Coast Guard housing that is now privately owned, and commercial properties on the south side of Highway 12. This area would add another 101 properties, valued at $25 million.
- The properties on the north side of Highway 12. That totals 20 more parcels, valued at $7.6 million.
The commissioners needed more information on the properties now under consideration to justify including them in a special district, so could not make a decision at Monday’s board meeting.
Instead, they have set a special meeting for Wednesday, March 13, at 5 p.m. to get more information and perhaps make a decision on a new proposal.
If the commissioners decide to expand the district, the county will have to publish new reports and a new map and set another public hearing with four weeks notice to property owners.
Including the properties in the triangle area close to the oceanfront makes some sense. The ocean surges down those streets in many storms.
However, the farther the district gets from the oceanfront — for instance, into Diamond Shoals estates — the more difficult it will be to make a case that the properties are threatened by the ocean. And it gets even harder to make a case that the property owners in that area would benefit any more from nourishment than any other property owner in Buxton — or on Hatteras Island, for that matter.
You can listen to an audio of the special meeting on the Dare County website, http://www.darenc.com. Scroll down on the left side of the home page and look under Board of Commissioners for “Listen to Live Meetings.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Click hereto see a map of the properties under consideration for a special tax district.
Click here to read a memorandum to the county from Coastal Science & Engineering on the bids for Buxton beach nourishment.