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Law Shifts Recovery Funds to Topsail Towns

The wall of sandbags in North Topsail Beach block waves Sept. 13, 2018, as Hurricane Florence neared landfall. Photo: North Topsail Beach

TOPSAIL BEACH – A $5 million state grant initially earmarked for a nonprofit has been shifted to the beach towns on Topsail Island.

Senate Bill 95, signed into law by Gov. Roy Cooper earlier this month, reallocates equal shares of the grant among North Topsail Beach, Surf City and Topsail Beach.

The bill was ratified June 26 to cut the Resource Institute from receiving any portion of the state Division of Water Resources grant, a move sought by the towns’ officials who have questioned why a Winston-Salem-based nonprofit with little coastal experience would get the funds to oversee projects throughout the island.

Steve Smith

“When you look at the state providing this resource where the towns had to do a majority of the work, there really wasn’t a need for a third party to be involved and the towns should benefit by getting the full amount,” said Topsail Beach Commissioner Steve Smith.

Each town must use their respective portions – more than $1.66 million each – for hurricane recovery projects.

Resource Institute, or RI, earlier this year asked for a 12% cut, or $600,000, of the grant for administrative costs to cover grant management, project management, technical assistance and oversight over the life of the project.

RI works with other nonprofit organizations, local governments and private entities to aid in the planning, design and engineering of projects. It also helps find funding sources for those projects.

The nonprofit was initially granted the funding a little more than a year ago, with the instruction to use the money to work with coastal local governments and engineering firms to explore and develop ways to extend the life of beach renourishment projects.

State lawmakers later changed the wording of the language in the state budget after Hurricane Florence blew ashore in North Carolina last September, putting the focus on Topsail Island, where town governments and engineering firms would work together to “develop, plan, or implement projects intended to mitigate the impacts of future hurricanes on Topsail Island.”

Though Resource Institute has done some work on coastal projects, a majority of the institute’s work has historically dealt in inland stream- and wetlands-restoration projects.

This fact led to an onset of questions and rumors as to why the nonprofit – based more than 200 miles west of the coast – was getting a multi-million-dollar grant to work on coastal storm mitigation projects.

Construction debris piles line the beach at Surf City after Hurricane Florence. Photo: Surf City

By early March, each town pared down their lists of prospective projects to three and submitted them to a task force chaired by an RI representative and five voting members, including one sitting member of each town board, a representative of RI and North Carolina Coastal Federation Director Todd Miller.

Later that same month, Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown, R-Onslow, amended Senate Bill 95 to shave $1.6 million off the grant and redirect it to North Topsail Beach.

Surf City and Topsail Beach officials followed up by making a similar request of Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick.

Now that the towns are set to get an equal share of the grant, they are responsible for submitting a report by Oct. 1 to the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Agriculture and Natural and Economic Resources and the Fiscal Research Division.

According to the law, the report must include:

  • A list of participating local governments, engineering firms and other partners in the grant-funded proposed projects.
  • A list of proposed projects, including estimated costs of each.
  • Documentation showing the resiliency of beach nourishment projects

“I think the three towns have a list of projects and they’ll go to the Division of Water Resources and go through them,” Smith said.

Smith, who is also chairman of the Topsail Island Shoreline Protection Commission, said the towns need make sure what they submit meets the state’s criteria.

Dune restoration topped North Topsail Beach list of priorities. The town lost an estimated $22 million worth of sand from the dune system stretching along the town’s 11-mile shoreline during Hurricane Florence.

Both Surf City and Topsail Beach identified stormwater improvement projects as their top priority.

About the Author

Trista Talton

Trista Talton is a native North Carolinian who, shortly after graduating from Appalachian State University in 1996, took her first newspaper job as a reporter for the Hickory Daily Record. She has since migrated to the coast, covering everything from education and local governments to law enforcement, the environment and the military, including an embed with Marines in Kuwait for the start of the Iraq war in 2003. She has been a Coastal Review Online contributing writer since 2011 focusing on coastal-related issues from Onslow to Brunswick counties. She lives with her husband and two sons in Jacksonville.