TRIAL upfront BY SAND? Nags Head Mayor Bob Oakes discusses the pros, cons and consequences of beach nourishment
You gotta give Nags Head credit: they sure know how to fill a beach. Calculating a decade of sand loss — then dumping a 16-year supply of matching grain sizes. (Instead of using Oregon Inlet dredge spoil, which would race home ten times faster — and probably look 100 times worse.) They even got tourists to foot most of the bill by scoring $18 million from Dare County’s Shoreline Management fund. (Of course, that means Kill Devil Hills, Duck and others will be lining up next.) But for many residents the question isn’t how they did it — but why? Why gamble millions on an angry ocean with budgets so tight? Why try at all after the public voted “no”? Mayor Bob Oakes kindly agreed to sit down and offer some answers on how all this sand came to Nags Head. How long it stays? Well, even he admits that’s “entirely up to the ocean.”
Why gamble millions on an angry ocean with budgets so tight? Why try at all after the public voted “no”?
MILEPOST: This is obviously a polarizing topic. Can you explain how we got here? MAYOR BOB OAKES: Well, there are three typical responses to erosion: hardening, retreat and nourishment. North Carolina won’t let you harden the shoreline because if one guy hardens, the guys on either side suffer — that’s what we’ve seen with sandbags. And the end result of retreat is you go away entirely. So, that leaves nourishment; to add sand to the system and reset the equilibrium between ocean and land a little farther out. And it seems reasonable to draw that line in front of your tax base and infrastructure. Basically we’re buying time.
You say 10 years, but critics say you’ll be lucky to get three. Is this project ‘trial by sand’? A little bit. But the data is the data. We know we’ve lost between 250,000 and 275,000 cubic yards of sand annually over the past 10 years, including Hurricane Isabel and a number of nor’easters. And we’re putting out 4.3 million cubic yards. Those are facts. The opinion part is “How long is it going to stay?” Nobody can say that. One positive piece of the project is we will finally have factual information. But I’ll be very surprised if we didn’t get six to seven years. We’re paying for it over five. I think that’ll be deemed a success. If it stays for three years, yeah, I’m a dog.
But even then it’ll be somebody else’s turn to tap the county fund. What if KDH or Duck try after only two years? Well, it will take more than a couple years for anyone to be ready to do anything, just because of the permitting process. With Duck, the bigger controversy is public access. Same for Southern Shores. But any sand to the north of me, I’ll take. It’s coming right here.
This hot-button issue comes with its own safety warnings. PHOTO: L-Dub
Why not use the money for something permanent at Windmill Point? Or figure out a way to fund schools? What’s more important: a convention center at Windmill Point — or to have a beach for the next 10 years? Go look where the beach has doubled in front of the Surfside Hotel and to me there’s no comparison. But is now really the time to make that comparison? What if a year later it’s gone? Again, I’m relatively sure if you put out 16 years worth of sand, it’s not going to go away in a year. You know I used to be anti-nourishment; I went to meetings and said, “This is dumb.” But part of it was what they were trying to sell. One guy said there was a1000 times benefit to spending $80 million. I couldn’t make those numbers work. I can make $34 million work. The occupancy tax alone is around $55 million. All those tax dollars are generated by the beach and tourism. If you retreat, that income stream is going to go down. So, I look at it as an investment. You know, Dare County didn’t have these schools 40 years ago. And we wouldn’t today [without] that beach tourism economy. The loudest complaint is from people who feel like they voted “no” twice. Can you explain how that happened? Sure. I’ve been elected three times and said the same thing in each election. Our last election had two candidates who were strongly antinourishment and the pro-nourishment ones won. If you keep electing people who say this is the right thing to do, you shouldn’t be surprised when you get it. But the sales tax repeal was all Dare County. And the referendum in Nags Head didn’t have anything coming from occupancy tax.
Stuck here on purpose