Reprinted from The Outer Banks Voice.
SOUTHERN SHORES — This Dare County town plans to assess the public’s mood for joining its neighbors in a beach-widening project that almost surely would mean a tax increase.
The town council set Jan. 17 as the date for a forum that will examine the pros and cons, the costs, the engineering and, most importantly, whether property owners are interested in pumping sand onto the oceanfront.
While erosion is a problem for all the town’s oceanfront, it is most acute at Pelican Watch, where surf from Tropical Storm Hermine and Hurricane Matthew this fall carved out half of the dune and exposed pieces of the old Sea Ranch hotel.
The surf has cut off parts of some stairways and left others dangling from the steep face of the remaining dune line.
Residents and property owners from the neighborhood told the town council during its November meeting that the loss of sand also threatened Ocean Boulevard — N.C. 12. They made an argument familiar to residents of other towns: That beach re-nourishment will benefit everyone by protecting tourism and the tax base.
But whether the rest of the town’s taxpayers are willing to pay to protect property where there is no direct public access remains to be seen.
Kitty Hawk’s beach nourishment project includes a 1,000-foot taper extending into Southern Shores at Pelican’s Reach. But if Nags Head’s five-year-old project is any indication, the tapered areas will be the first to go.
When Kitty Hawk held a forum early in its planning, a large turnout generally favored beach re-nourishment. But along that town’s beach, N.C. 12 routinely washes out during storms near Kitty Hawk Road, and serious flooding between the highways continues to be a problem.
At the request of Mayor Pro Tem Fred Newberry, the Southern Shores Council opted for a forum rather than the public hearing originally planned for December. The hearing had been set after the council tabled a proposal to hire Coastal Planning and Engineering to undertake an assessment of the beach, the dunes and rate of erosion.
Newberry and other council members said they wanted to know more about the engineering, cost and effects of a potential project and suggested that experts be included in the forum.
“And also, are the majority of Southern Shores property owners willing to take on beach nourishment and the costs … ?” Newberry asked.
Town Manager Peter Rascoe said that including the length of the town’s beach could cost as much as $25 million. But initial discussions are focusing mainly on 2,000 to 3,000 feet on the southern end of town, which would cost considerably less.
Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk and Duck have joined together in a beach re-nourishment project that is scheduled to start next spring. It is using a combination of Dare County money from the Beach Nourishment Fund and bonds issued by the individual towns.
The towns will pay back the bonds with tax increases, primarily special assessments along the oceanfront. In 2011, Nags Head used a combination of a 2-cent town-wide increase and an extra 16 cents per $100 of valuation along the oceanside. The oceanside tax was suspended when the bond was paid off earlier this year.
Kitty Hawk’s property owners are paying an additional 2 cents town-wide and 12 cents in the oceanside municipal service district.
Illinois-based Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Co. successfully bid $38.95 million to use dredges to pull sand from offshore borrow areas and pump it onto the beaches of the three towns.
Southern Shores would see significant savings if it joined with Duck, Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills because deploying equipment is a big part of the cost.
The project in the three towns is scheduled to begin in early spring 2017. The forum in January and another 60 to 90 days for permitting leaves a small window for Southern Shores. The town would also have to obtain easements from oceanfront property owners to do the work.
Mayor Tom Bennett noted that when the subject of easements came up previously, the “opposition was strident.” But the easements would only allow access to put sand on the beach, not take the property, he said.
Bennett said the idea might have been miscommunicated.
“I’m concerned about that,” he said. “And it’s one of the obstacles we need to overcome.”
The forum will be 5:30 p.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn in Kitty Hawk.
This story is provided courtesy of the Outer Banks Voice, a digital newspaper covering the Outer Banks. Coastal Review Online is partnering with the Voice to provide readers with more environmental and lifestyle stories of interest about our coast. You can read other stories about the Outer Banks here.