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May 8, 2023

An Urgent Call to Action: Supporting H.R. 524 for the Future of Wrightsville Beach

Sponsored Content provided by Natalie English - President & CEO, Wilmington Chamber of Commerce

The pristine shoreline and crystal-clear waters of Wrightsville Beach are beloved not only by locals but also by tourists who are drawn to our community each year. According to a study commissioned by Visit North Carolina, a division of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, tourists brought $930 million into New Hanover County in 2021, representing a 55% increase over the previous year. These dollars go towards supporting local businesses, creating jobs, and generating economic activity in the community. 

However, as residents know all too well, the pristine beaches that attract so many visitors are subject to erosion and damage from natural forces like hurricanes and storms. This erosion can decrease beach length and quality, making it less appealing to tourists and potentially reducing the economic benefits to the community. This is where regular beach renourishment comes in.

By replenishing and restoring the sand on Wrightsville Beach, beach renourishment helps maintain the attractiveness of the beach for tourists and visitors. This, in turn, helps support local businesses that rely on tourism dollars and generates economic activity in the community. In fact, the Wilmington Beaches Convention & Visitors Bureau estimates that travel-generated state and local tax revenues saved each New Hanover County tax resident an estimated $319.28 each year.

Moreover, beach renourishment can also provide additional benefits beyond the economic benefits. For example, a healthy beach ecosystem can provide important habitat for a variety of marine and bird species, which can contribute to the overall health and diversity of the ecosystem. Additionally, a wider beach can help protect against storm surges and flooding, potentially reducing the risk of property damage and protecting public safety.

For over 50 years, the beach has been maintained through a proven, efficient, permitted system of drawing sand from the south end/inlet and placing it on the beach. The Army Corps of Engineers designed this system, and has been tested and improved over the years.

However, a recent "interpretation change" by the U.S. Department of the Interior has prevented Wrightsville Beach from using this effective system, causing a multi-year delay in replenishing the sand on the beach. This harms the environment and impacts the local businesses that rely on tourism dollars. Without beach renourishment, the healthy dune ecosystem and its wildlife are at risk during the next storm. For example, this summer, there are no safe places for sea turtle nests on Wrightsville Beach due to the lack of sand.

The town of Wrightsville Beach and New Hanover County have been working to address this issue, but outreach from impacted area residents and business owners will help enhance the message. Using sand from the south end of Wrightsville Beach, as they have for 50+ years, is the most cost-effective option and the most environmentally friendly one. The current funding for the project is $10.6 million, but using offshore sand sites could cost $25-35 million, with the potential for additional environmental impacts.

Beach renourishment is crucial for maintaining the natural beauty of Wrightsville Beach, which in turn draws tourists and generates economic activity in the local community. We must support H.R. 524 and urge our elected officials to provide the necessary funding for this important project. 

H.R. 524 creates an exemption to the restriction on using federal funds for certain shoreline borrow sites within the Coastal Barrier Resources System. Specifically, the restriction shall not apply to funds to use a borrow site located within the system if it has been in use as a borrow site by a coastal storm risk management project for more than 15 years. Fortunately, we already have the support of Congressman David Rouzer. 

The U.S House committee on Natural Resources will hear the bill on Wednesday, May 10 at 2:00 pm.  We urge the committee to expeditiously approve the bill. New Hanover County beaches must be renourished as soon as possible to mitigate damage from another storm season.

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