NORTH TOPSAIL BEACH — The Army Corps of Engineers will use money from a disaster bill to provide long-awaited federal funding for two North Carolina beach nourishment projects, according to U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis.
According to a joint news release from the state’s two Republican senators, the Corps will spend about $237 million building dunes and widening the beach on 10 miles of Topsail Island shoreline, including about 4 miles of southern North Topsail Beach and a little more than 6 miles of Surf City. The Corps will use an additional $44.5 million to build nearly 6 miles of dunes and widen 22.7 miles of beach on Carteret County’s Bogue Banks.
In a prepared statement, Burr said, “Each storm that hits North Carolina takes a toll on our beaches and river basins. After the historic damage inflicted by recent hurricanes, it was clear that more preventive measures needed to be taken to better protect our coastal communities.”
The senators’ news comes days after the Corps of Engineers similarly announced that it would use $39.6 million from the disaster relief package to build a long-awaited levee around Princeville in Edgecombe County. The historically black town, founded by freed slaves is next to the Tar River and frequently floods.
Both the Topsail Island and the Bogue Banks projects began in the early part of this century, with a feasibility study for the Topsail project authorized in 2000 after Hurricanes Fran and Floyd and initial studies for Bogue Banks authorized in 2001.
“We’ve had the studies and all of that done for 15 years and kept updating it and keeping it up and just not getting there, but we finally did and there’s a lot of people who have been working on it hard,” Surf City Mayor Doug Medlin said.
Burr, Tillis and U.S. Rep. David Rouzer sent a letter in June to the Corps touting the Surf City project’s benefits.
The island lost 25 feet of sand to the storms of the 1990s, compelling the study, they wrote. Erosion continues at a rate as high as 2 or 3 additional feet annually, they added.
“If Hurricane Florence had made landfall as a Category 3 or 4 storm, as was originally predicted, the damage would have been catastrophic,” they wrote. Florence caused an estimated $63.59 million in damage to Surf City’s beach and $49 million to North Topsail Beach’s.
Without federal funding, they wrote, the towns would be unable to make necessary improvements to their shorelines. The North Topsail Beach and Surf City project does not include Topsail Island’s north end, which experts often hold up as a key example of coastal building in risky areas.
It is typical for the Corps to deal with a backlog of permitted but not funded shoreline projects with disaster relief bills. A similar phenomenon has played out in New Jersey, The News & Observer of Raleigh previously reported, where disaster relief money was used to build 33 miles of beach after Superstorm Sandy.
Corps officials submitted each of North Carolina’s four permitted but not funded beach nourishment projects for consideration of the $740 million disaster relief package. Areas that remain unfunded include a 10-mile section of the Outer Banks in Dare County, as well as the southern end of Topsail Island.
A timeline for construction of the new beaches was not immediately available. Medlin said that while he would like construction to take place in fall 2020, it may need to wait until 2021-22.
Carteret County has been working on repairing Florence’s nearly $65 million of damage to Bogue Banks, said Greg “Rudi” Rudolph, the county’s shore protection manager. The county recently kicked off the $28 million second phase of its Florence repairs which will place nearly 2 million cubic tons of sand on 9.5 miles of beach including west Emerald Isle, Pine Knoll Shores and Salter Path.
Rudolph has cobbled projects together using a local occupancy tax, Federal Emergency Disaster Agency money and money from North Carolina’s recently created beach nourishment fund. The Corps project, though, would build up the beach along the entirety of the Bogue Banks.
“This is a good way for us to be a little more proactive,” Rudolph said of the awarded funding, “so we’re really thrilled with it and it complements the efforts we’ve been doing in the meantime.”