Hoping to fund two new beach nourishment projects in 2022 – one in Southern Shores and the other in Avon – the Dare County Commissioners next month will consider a plan to help finance those projects with the limited amount of money currently available in the county’s coffers designated for such projects.
At the board’s Dec. 21 meeting, Dare County Manager Bobby Outten told the commissioners that the $8.5 million currently in the county’s Beach Nourishment Fund was only enough to help pay for one of those projects – but not both. The proposal he unveiled at the meeting is for the county to find an additional $7 million to pay for the two projects by reducing the funds it gives to all Dare County municipalities for beach nourishment.
Southern Shores, the only municipality in Dare County that hasn’t yet conducted a town-wide nourishment project, has seen increasingly thinning beaches in recent years. Avon, an unincorporated part of the county, has been faced with extensive beach erosion and ocean overwash onto N.C. 12 during almost every significant storm event over the past two years. Early this year, the county had chipped in to pay for feasibility studies in both communities.
The project in Southern Shores is estimated to cost between $14 and $16 million, and Avon’s sand pumping would cost roughly $11 million. Over the years, beach nourishment projects have been funded through a combination of municipal and service district taxes as well as Dare County’s Beach Nourishment Fund, which typically foots about 50 percent of the bill for the projects in the municipalities.
“So, we’ve got almost $30 million worth of projects out here and we’ve got $8.5 million dollars [available in the Beach Nourishment Fund]. And we are trying to think ‘how in the world are we going to fund these projects,’” Outten told the commissioners at the meeting. “We’ve played with the numbers to figure out how we could do it. Otherwise, you all were going to be in the precarious position of having to pick one project over the other.”
This fall, Dare County, Nags Head, Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk, Southern Shores and Duck were each awarded a roughly $1.4 million grant from the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Water Resources for beach nourishment and other projects to remediate storm damage. In light of those grants, Outten proposed that the county reduce the amount it contributes to each of the five municipalities’ recurring nourishment projects by that same $1.4 million — freeing up an additional $7 million for the Avon and Southern Shore projects.
The $1.4 million state grant, Outten said, would essentially make up for reduced amount from the county. “The towns could still do exactly the same project that they had planned to do, we would still be able to fund it in the future just like we planned…and they would be no worse off than they would have been anyway.”
Outten explained that Avon has been struggling with beach nourishment issues for several years and is looking for a way to fund a project to keep water off N.C. 12 every time there is a storm. “Whether it’s named or not, the ocean gets big and Highway 12 closes through the middle of Avon,” he said.
Creating special service districts in Avon, he noted, would involve possibly taxing those on the east side of N.C. 12 an additional 40 cents or so per $100 of assessed value in addition to county taxes. The west side could see a 10-cent levy to help foot the beach nourishment bill. Outten acknowledged that some in the community might balk at that price tag.
“We know that everybody in Avon is not going to like this, and we expect that,” the county manager said. “At some point, we’ve got to go down to Avon and have some conversations with the community there. We’re not sure how we do that in COVID, but we do need to do that and then you all need to make some decisions on how, if, or what we’re going to do.”
Commissioner Danny Couch, who represents Hatteras Island on the board of commissioners, said there are a number of groups in Avon that are very supportive of the project. In speaking with those concerned about the financial impact, he said he brought up the severity of the situation there.
“’Do you want a highway?’” he recalled asking them. “’Do you want to keep salt water out from underneath the vehicle? Do you want to be able to go to the grocery when you need to? Those are the questions you’ve got to ask yourself.’”
For his part, Board Chairman Bob Woodard asserted that he thought the plan was a viable one. “This board made a commitment years ago to put as much sand on county beaches as possible,” he said. “As tough as it sounds…this is our economic engine, and everybody’s got to have skin in the game – no matter which side of the highway you’re on.”