North Topsail to Join Sand Project Agreement

A beach renourishment project on Topsail Island. Photo: Corps of Engineers

North Topsail Beach is moving forward with plans to embark on a joint, 50-year, multi-million-dollar beach renourishment project.

North Topsail’s Board of Aldermen recently instructed the town’s attorney to notify U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials that the town intends to join in on the proposed federal project and will at the appropriate time sign a project partnership agreement, or PPA, with the Corps and Surf City.

“You have to look at the great advantage of this federal project in that we would be getting over $90 million worth of sand in the initial construction of the project just in North Topsail,” Mayor Pro Tem Mike Benson said Oct. 31 during a special called meeting of the board. “We just have to figure out the right way to finance it that’s in the best interest of our residents and properties.”

North Topsail Beach will have to fork out about $3 million a year for the next 50 years to cover its portion of the project, which was in 2019 estimated by the Corps to cost more than $900 million over the life of the project.

That figure has since dropped to an estimated $672 million, according to information provided on the town’s website.

Under the agreement, the Corps would pay 65% of the project’s initial construction. The towns and state would pay for the remaining 35%.

The proposed project was approved last fall by the Corps and would secure beach renourishment along 10 miles of Topsail Island’s oceanfront shore, including all 6 miles of Surf City’s beach, every six years for the next half-century.

Talks continue in North Topsail Beach on ways the town can generate revenue to pay for its portion of the project, which will nourish the first 4 miles of beach at the southern end of town starting at the town line with Surf City.

North Topsail aldermen are considering a multipronged approach to bring in more money, including increasing the occupancy tax on rooms, lodging and accommodations.

To do that, the town will have to get legislative approval.

The combined occupancy tax rate in North Topsail Beach is 6%. Revenues are split equally between Onslow County and the town.

Onslow County officials have said that they will not give the town the full amount of occupancy tax, but that they will support the town in the pursuit to increase its occupancy tax.

Doug Carter, president and managing director of the municipal consulting firm DEC Associates Inc., broke down the increase-to-revenue-generated ratios for occupancy tax increases of 1% to 3%.

A 1% increase would bring in an additional $350,000; 2% would generate an additional $700,000; and 3% an additional $1,050,000, he said.

“Three is what I would go for, for obvious reasons, if I sat in your chair,” Carter said to the board during the Oct. 31 meeting.

Aldermen are also considering implementing paid parking at the town’s public beach accesses.

“The board has spoken that they’re in favor of paid parking in our parking lots,” Mayor Joann McDermon said during that meeting.

North Topsail Beach will “probably be the first” of the three towns on the island, which includes Topsail Beach, to charge for parking at its public beach accesses, she said.

“We’re looking at everything right now. Nothing is off the table.”

That also includes the potential of a property tax increase.

The town operates on about a $7 million budget and is currently paying down a $16 million U.S. Department of Agriculture loan it received for a renourishment project that was completed about five years ago.

The town is paying about $900,000 a year on that loan.

In September, Carter informed town officials that if the town continues to pay that amount each year for the next four to five years it will pay down about $8 million or so of the $14 million remaining debt.

The reserve fund, which is between $4 million and $5 million, would cover the remainder of the loan.

Carter said last month that he’d spoken with Local Government Commission officials and informed them that the town would be able to pay off the loan around fiscal 2026. He also said he told those same officials that the town understands it would have overlapping debt service on the USDA loan and to the Corps if the town agrees to the PPA.

“The understand that this is an opportunity,” Carter said to aldermen during the Oct. 31 meeting.

In addition to the proposed federal project, the town has been in the process of restoring town hall, which has been unoccupied since being heavily damaged during Hurricane Florence in 2018.

A project to haul more than 200,000 cubic yards of sand by trucks to beef up a portion of the town’s shoreline is underway with work to begin later this year.

The town is pursuing the possibility of constructing a terminal groin at New River Inlet.

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.