By Michelle Wagner | Outer Banks Voice on January 26, 2020
As Southern Shores continues to grapple with whether to move forward with a town-wide beach nourishment effort in 2022, Town Council has agreed to begin investigating how it might fund such a project — which could carry a price tag of between $14 to $16 million.
While Southern Shores piggybacked on the north end of Kitty Hawk’s nourishment project in 2017 in order to pump sand onto about 1,500 feet of eroded beach to the east of Pelican Watch, such a town-wide project would be a first for the municipality.
During a Jan. 21 work session, the council directed town staff to coordinate with the Charlotte-based financial consultants DEC Associates to begin exploring options for creating Municipal Service Districts (MSDs) that would ultimately help the municipality foot the bill for widening town beaches.
Properties in the MSDs, likely those on and near the oceanfront, would be assessed a separate levy to help pay for the cost of the project. Town funds would not have to be raised until the 2021-22 fiscal year.
“If we are contemplating [beach nourishment] options or no options, that funding source is as important as anything else…what we are going to ask people in the audience here to potentially pay,” said Council Member Matthew Neal during the Jan. 21 session on beach nourishment options. “I am a newly elected individual and raising taxes is not my key thing.”
Newly elected Council Member Elizabeth Morey echoed Neal’s comment. “In order for us to make an informed decision, we need to have the people who pay the property taxes know what amount of payment they are looking at,” she said.
The town, if it moves forward with sand pumping efforts, is banking on Dare County to kick in at least $7.6 million from its Beach Nourishment Fund. That would leave Southern Shores needing to come up with $1,073,928 annually over the five years of the Special Obligation Bonds. That translates to 7.82 cents of the property tax equivalent, DEC’s Andrew Carter told the council.
“This is your skin in the game,” he said, adding that neighboring towns have made the same contribution. Carter also noted that all the towns have raised the funds for their projects differently. “Some have multiple MSDs, some have taxed town wide or they’ve had a hybrid of those two methods.”
While Dare County Manager Bobby Outten acknowledged that the county does have between $7.5 and $8 million to contribute to a beach nourishment project somewhere in the county, he told the Voice that county commissioners haven’t yet to determine where that money will be earmarked.
Through its Beach Nourishment Fund, Dare County has helped to fund Southern Shore’s beach nourishment study. It also recently embarked on a similar study in Avon. “The board [of commissioners] hasn’t chosen where to spend the money yet,” Outten said, adding that once the study is completed in Avon, the board would have to prioritize. “We haven’t gotten that far yet.”
At the Jan. 21 meeting, DEC’s Doug Carter explained that such a project involves a commitment to re-nourish every five years. “Once you start it, it never ends,” he added. “You make your beach better, and in five years you replenish it again. Once you are in the business of beach nourishment, you are in the business of beach nourishment.”
The Jan. 21 session also included a presentation by APTIM Coastal Planning and Engineering’s Ken Wilson, whose firm has conducted the beach nourishment study for Southern Shores and assisted in the development of its Beach Management Plan.
In addition to two nourishment options it had previously presented that included pumping sand onto the beach from 3rd Street south to the town line, Wilson outlined two additional options that would include nourishing the entire stretch of town’s shoreline.
If the town decides to proceed with one of those options, DEC’s Doug Carter encouraged council members “to sell the county on the project, and that it provides the greatest benefit to the community from an economic perspective.”
For his part, Outten noted that there are a few factors that could create urgency when it comes to a county commitment. “One is how quickly do they need it and how quickly are beaches eroding.”
Another possible factor involves consolidating projects. The towns of Duck and Kitty Hawk are also expected to do re-nourishment projects, possibly in 2022, and conducting neighboring projects at the same time can save millions of dollars on the mobilization process, he said.
Still, as the county manager noted, there won’t be any decisions on where the county’s nourishment money will go until the Avon study is complete, which will likely be sometime this spring. That means Southern Shores may have a little wiggle room before it decides whether it wants to move forward with beach nourishment and make its pitch to the county.