RALEIGH — The state Senate yesterday passed a biennial budget plan that once again contains numerous coastal provisions, including money for inlet dredging, improvements at the state ports and oyster restoration.
The chamber voted 32-15 yesterday to approve the $21.5 billion spending plan. The 507-page bill now heads to a conference committee to work out the differences with the budget plan that the N.C. House approved in late May.
With little time to bridge differences before the start of the fiscal year on July 1, the legislature is expected to pass a continuing resolution to fund government operations until an agreement is reached.
Like the 2013 biennial budget, this budget includes several coastal initiatives. Many were imported from an earlier ports and inlet-management bill championed by coastal legislators, including Majority Leader Harry Brown, R-Onslow, the Senate’s chief budget writer.
Port officials in Morehead City have become alarmed at increased shoaling in Beaufort Inlet, the port’s only channel to the ocean. If it were to acquire a portion of Shackleford Banks, part of the Cape Lookout National Seashore, in a land-swap deal with the federal government, the state could presumably then build a jetty to control better control shoaling.
The provision is similar to one in the state’s 2013 budget that related to the potential state takeover of notoriously unreliable Oregon Inlet in Dare County. So far, that effort has led nowhere.
The new Senate budget plan also sets up a new fund for dredging deep-water inlets, similar to the fund for shallow inlet dredging established by Brown in the budget two years ago. The spending plan sets aside $20 million for dredging shallow inlets with more than $4 million earmarked for Oregon Inlet.
A provision in the bill also authorizes the state to establish a memorandum of agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers for nonfederal funding for dredging Oregon Inlet.
Trust Funds and Oysters
The Senate concurred with the House in increasing the amount of funding for the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund, although by not as much. The Senate budget allocates $44.7 million for the trust fund from all funding sources including special license plate receipts. The House total reaches $50 million. Both represent more than double the low point of funding two years ago, when state support fell to $10 million a year for the first time in the history of the fund.
The Senate also follows the House in setting up new initiatives for the oyster industry, including a rewrite of shellfish cultivation leasing laws and the establishment of an oyster sanctuary program. Provisions would also allow oyster leasing in Core Sound after a study by N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries in consultation with representatives of the commercial fishing and shellfish industries and federal agencies and would outlaw the use of oyster shells in landscaping effective Oct. 15.
Parks, Aquariums Moved
Unlike the House version, the Senate plan finances Gov. Pat McCrory’s proposal to move the state parks system and all state aquariums from the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources to the state Department of Cultural Resources.
The House included a study of the proposal in its budget. The Senate version sets up the details for a transfer including the renaming of both departments to the Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.
Sen. Andrew Brock, R-Davie, co-chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee on Natural and Economic Resources, told his colleagues during the opening of debate on Wednesday that the move would make sure that “what was formerly known as DENR is now a complete regulatory body and let them focus on those issues of keeping our air and water and our streams clean.”
Odds & Ends
Other coastal-related spending and provisions:
- Direct the N.C. Division of Coastal Management to develop a beach erosion strategy and report to Environmental Review Commission by Feb. 15;
- Relax state sandbag rules to allow anyone to build a sandbag wall without first seeking a permit if their property is adjacent to an existing sandbag wall. Also removes restrictions on how close the sandbags must be to a threatened structure;
- Calls for removal of The Rocks at Zeke’s Island near the mouth of the Cape Fear River and Bald Head Island;
- Call for a study on the possible transfer of the Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Partnership, Coastal Reserves Program; Office and Land & Water Stewardship; Office of Environmental Education; Division of Marine Fisheries; and the Wildlife Resources Commission to the new Department of Natural and Cultural Resources;
- Eliminate the sedimentation Control Commission Board, transfers its authority to the Environmental Review Commission and weakens penalties for violations;
- Change some landfill permit rules;
- Prohibit DENR from applying for federal grants under the State Energy Program Competitive Grant and Clean Energy and Manufacturing Grant programs;
- Allow the new Department of Natural and Cultural Resources to use dynamic pricing, such as seasonal rates, in setting admission fees for state parks and other attractions.