Surf City Eyes $25M Berm, Dune Project

A man walks into the surf after a nor’easter brought high tides and beach erosion to Surf City last fall. Photo: Mark Darrough/Port City Daily

Reprinted from Port City Daily

SURF CITY — This Topsail Island town is looking to finally attain its coveted status as a “Corps-engineered beach” at an estimated cost of nearly $25 million.

Surf City is expected to pay around $24.9 million for its portion of a 52,150-foot berm and dune system to be built by the Army Corps of Engineers from the town’s southern boundary with Topsail Beach to the northern end of Topsail Island.

The projected cost for constructing just shy of 10 miles of dune and berm system is about $237 million, according to a letter sent by Town Manager Kyle Breuer to Mayor Doug Medlin. Congress has already appropriated that money to the Corps, according to Breuer.

That figure will be broken down into financial commitments. The federal government is expected to contribute 65%, the state 17.5% and the towns of Surf City and North Topsail Beach, a combined 17.5%. North Topsail Beach is expected to contribute $16.6 million.

Breuer emphasized that these are estimated numbers, as the total amounts due will be based on the volume of sand dumped onto the roughly 6-mile stretch of beach in Surf City and the 3.9 mile-stretch in North Topsail Beach. The berm and dune line will extend to the southern edge of the Coastal Barrier Resources Act, or CBRA, Zone in North Topsail Beach.

“Beach volumes for initial construction are estimated at approximately 12 million cubic yards (MCY), requiring multiple years for initial completion,” Breuer wrote to the mayor.

Cost breakdown of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer dune and berm project for Surf City and North Topsail Beach. The numbers are based on a cost-share agreement of 65% federal and 35% nonfederal commitments. Graphic: Port City Daily graphic/Numbers courtesy of Surf City

He said the first phase of the project will start in the winter of 2020 or 2021 at the Surf City-Topsail Beach boundary, proceeding north roughly 2 miles. The next phases will continue until the project is completed, expected to be sometime in the spring of 2024.

A project partnership agreement has established responsibilities of both beach towns, requiring continued coordination between the two throughout construction as well as throughout a 50-year project life, during which time renourishment work will occur at six-year intervals “and funds will be budgeted accordingly,” according to Breuer.

He said the agreement will be presented during Friday’s Council Work Session for a vote. The agreement must be signed by both towns “and an action to approve must be provided by Council,” Breuer informed the mayor.

The six-year renourishment work will be split equally between the federal and nonfederal partners, and Breuer said the town’s nourishment funds will continue to be budgeted for the town’s 50-50 cost-share with the state.

Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., on Jan. 13 announced that the two towns would receive money provided by Congress through the Disaster Relief Act. According to an email from Burr’s office, both senators led efforts to secure the federal funding and, along with Sen. David Rouzer, R-Johnston, wrote to the Corps advocating for the beach towns.

“The Surf City and North Topsail Beach project is a critical, shovel-ready coastal storm reduction project, and constructing it is a priority for North Carolina, a state seriously impacted by Hurricane Florence,” the joint letter stated.

The letter went on to say that the Topsail Island project is designed to prevent disastrous losses by protecting vulnerable areas of the island “that lost storm protection capabilities in previous storms and through ongoing erosion.” Hurricanes Fran, Bertha, and Floyd eroded approximately 25 feet of protective beach width over the project area,” according to the congressmen.

A nor’easter brought high tides and beach erosion to Surf City last November. Photo: Mark Darrough

“Today, shoreline erosion continues at a rate of two to three feet per year in some portions of the project area,” the letter continues. “Hurricane Florence further eroded the beaches and primary dune structure. The Corps estimates average damages exceed $19 million for every year the project is not constructed.”

Hurricane Florence in September 2018 caused over $100 million in damages to the towns’ beaches and infrastructure, according to the letter, and if it had made landfall as a Category 3 or 4 storm, as was predicted days before, “the damage would have been catastrophic.”

“The towns of Surf City and North Topsail Beach are aware of the risks they face and have sought to improve beach conditions on their own,” according to the letter.

Although the congressmen justified the economic soundness of the project, claiming a benefit-cost ratio of 3.47 to 1, they did not elaborate on the details of this claim.

Gov. Roy Cooper also praised the project’s funding, saying the substantial investment by Corps will help residents become “more resilient against future storms.

“These substantial investments by the Army Corps of Engineers will help make North Carolina safer and more resilient against future storms. North Carolinians have been hit hard by recent storms, and I appreciate the efforts of our federal partners as we work to rebuild smarter and stronger than ever,” Cooper said.

This story is provided courtesy of Port City Daily, an online news source for Wilmington and the Cape Fear region, including New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender counties. Coastal Review Online is partnering with Port City Daily to provide readers with more environmental and lifestyle stories of interest about our coast.