Last week, in Part I of this blog, I introduced the topic of too much sand in our inlets and too little sand on our beaches with a quote from Hatteras charter boat captain Rom Whitaker.
He was speaking to the Dare Board of Commissioners at the town hall meeting in Buxton on Feb. 4, where the most discussed topic was the county's plan to nourish the beach in north Buxton to protect Highway 12 and who should pay for the project.
Whitaker also wanted to talk about the problems of shoaling in Hatteras Inlet, which he did.
"There is enough sand in Hatteras Inlet to fix all the problems we got," Whitaker said at the conclusion of his remarks to applause and laughter from the crowd of about 250 islanders who attended the meeting.
The irony of his statement was lost on no one that night.
The channels in Hatteras Inlet upon which we depend for ferries to and from Ocracoke and for access to and from the Atlantic Ocean for commercial and recreational fishing are so choked with sand that they are at times impassable and, at other times, downright dangerous.
Yet, our beaches are so starved for sand that Highway 12 is threatened in several areas, including north Buxton.
Dare County has a project planned to nourish the beach in north Buxton that is reaching a critical point on several fronts.
The first is that the county commissioners are about to decide who should pay for the $25 million project and how much they should pay.
And the second is the timing of the project. Can it possibly happen as planned in the late spring or early summer of this year?
Or will oceanfront property owners and travelers have to wait another year -- since it's not practical to do the project during fall or winter?
PAYING FOR NOURISHING THE BEACH
Almost everyone, including probably the commissioners, seems to agree that it is the North Carolina Department of Transportation's responsibility to protect Highway 12.
The governor declared a state of emergency in 2013 when Highway 12 was threatened by eroding beaches at the S-curves and north Rodanthe. The area had been breached after Hurricanes Irene and Sandy. And in 2014, the North Carolina Department of Transportation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conducted a project to nourish the beach in the area to protect the road.
However, neither the governor nor NCDOT has seen fit to declare a state of emergency in northern Buxton where even relatively mild coastal storms send the ocean rushing over beachfront properties and the highway.
The Dare County Board of Commissioners had been exploring nourishing beaches in both the Rodanthe and Buxton areas, but focused on Buxton after DOT went ahead with its nourishment project in Rodanthe.
The board, then controlled by Democrats, decided that if it could get Park Service permission and if it could raise the money, that the county would go ahead with a nourishment project in that area.
Now fast forward to today -- March 2016.
The National Park Service is expected to issue a special use permit to allow the nourishment plan to go forward -- on the basis of protecting Highway 12. Once the Park Service signs off on the project, the only other permit that is needed is from the U.S. Army Corps and that is expected by early April.
And the county has a beach nourishment fund, which is funded by a 2 percent occupancy tax. Currently, Dare County is looking to that fund to pay for most of the Buxton beach restoration, and the towns of Duck, Kitty Hawk, and Kill Devil Hills are also planning nourishment projects, partly funded by the occupancy tax money.
However, the towns are asking taxpayers to shoulder part of the cost -- from discussions at county board meetings, the town's taxpayer may be paying for about 25 percent or so of the nourishment.
There is, however, a difference. The towns are nourishing mostly to save infrastructure -- their tax base. The nourishment in north Buxton has been permitted on the basis of protecting the highway, though 34 oceanfront property owners will also benefit.
Warren Judge, who was chairman of the Board of Commissioners when the Buxton nourishment project started, said at a board meeting last month that "When we started out, the fund would carry it." What he meant was that the beach nourishment fund would pay for all of it.
Now, Republicans control the Board of Commissioners. Judge and Hatteras Island Commissioner Allen Burrus are the only two remaining Democrats.
So maybe it's partisan and maybe it's not. But for whatever reason, the current board believes that Hatteras islanders should have some skin in the game when it comes to nourishment. They say it's a matter of fairness and equity. Dare Countians who live in the towns are having to help pay, so Hatteras islanders should also help pay.
The commissioners voted 4-2 at their last meeting on Feb. 15 to create a county service district to help pay for Buxton nourishment. Burrus and Judge voted against the proposal. Commissioner Margarette Umphlett was not at the meeting.
The county has already issued a report justifying the need for the district and a map identifying the properties that will be included in the district and has set a public hearing on the special tax district for Monday, April 4, at 10 a.m. at the Commissioners' meeting room in Manteo.
The commissioners decided that the special tax district should include the 34 ocean properties only, though there was some discussion about whether others who are not directly on the ocean but will also benefit should be included.
At one point, the board considered that the district should include all properties in a triangle bounded by Highway 12, the Atlantic Ocean, and Old Lighthouse Road. That would include property owners not directly on the ocean but on several short side streets that are also getting serious overwash in storms.
The commissioners have said they want to hear from their constituents about the special tax district before they decide.
After the hearing, they can vote to establish the district with the 34 oceanfront properties. Or they can change their minds and expand the district. If that's the case, they have to draw new maps, write a new report, and have another hearing.
If they vote to keep the tax district as has been proposed, they will probably set the tax rate for the district during budgeting this spring for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
The 34 oceanfront properties are valued at $16,765,702. Each one cent of tax in the district would raise $1,676.57.
Outten has told the commissioners that 7.82 cents per $100 of property value is about the average tax that property owners in Nags Head and the other towns have paid for nourishment.
If the board decides to levy an 8-cent rate in the Buxton special tax district, the total that Buxton oceanfront property owners would contribute would be slightly more than $13,000 of the total bill, estimated at $25 million.
You can see now that taxes would have to be raised to a ridiculous level for Buxton oceanfront property owners to make any significant contribution to the total cost.
And one of the requirements of establishing the service district is that it is "economically feasible" to provide the proposed services without "unreasonable or burdensome annual tax levies."
But I guess it's worth it to the commissioners to say that Hatteras islanders have contributed.
TIMING OF THE BEACH NOURISHMENT
While the focus right now is on who should pay how much for the Buxton project, it will soon be on when the project can happen.
According to the contractors who are planning the project for the county, the nourishment can be put out for bid in April with bids due late April and a contractor starting to pump sand in May or June, finishing the project by September.
That's really cutting it close. Is it even feasible to consider that the project can be put out for bids, a contractor can be selected and that the contractor can begin work in two months time? Much less finish by September?
It seems even less feasible when you consider that the three towns put out their beach nourishment projects out for bid together earlier this year. They also had planned to pump sand this summer.
Everyone wants to pump sand in the summer, because it is too costly and even too dangerous to pump sand from offshore in the waters off the Outer Banks during the fall through spring northeaster season.
Furthermore, it seems there is a shortage of dredges for all the work that is planned not only on the Outer Banks but elsewhere this summer.
When bids for the Duck, Kitty Hawk, and Kill Devil Hills projects were opened last month, the three bids ranged from $5 million to $9 million over the $45.5 million the towns had budgeted. The three projects have been put back out for bid.
And, what's even worse is perhaps that none of the contractors could do the work before September because of the dredge shortage.
Tim Kana of Coastal Science & Engineering, the county's planning contractor on Buxton, says that dredging in the fall and winter is just not feasible off Buxton. A project that might take two months in the summer could take six months in the winter and cost twice as much, he said.
He said he sees two possibilities for getting the Buxton work done in the summer .
One is that it's a smaller project than the three on the northern beaches and perhaps a contractor can squeeze it in among other jobs.
Or that if the Buxton project and the three town projects are combined, the total project may get big enough to interest some contractor.
The timing should start getting clearer with each passing week -- in the sense that every week that ticks by toward the end of summer without sand being pumped -- or a plan to pump it -- is not good for those who want to see the Buxton project done this year.
Even this year was too late in the eyes of most oceanfront property owners in Buxton and other islanders.
Waiting another year will leave many people very, very disappointed.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Click here to read the entire Dare County Buxton Beach Nourishment Project Report and Notice of Public Hearing.
Click here to read an blog from April 18, 2014: Where we are on beach nourishment on Hatteras Island.
Click here to read a blog from June 20, 2014: Buxton beach nourishment is moving, but not quickly enough for some."
Click here to read a blog from Aug. 28, 2014: Buxton beach restoration timeline: Too ambitious or not ambitious enough