Divisions arise in North Carolina over dredging funds

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A North Carolina bill that would divert beach nourishment funds to pay for dredging an inlet is pitting a business community and a boating community against one another.

Representatives of both camps gave their opinions on draft state legislation that would allow the Dare County Board of Commissioners to divert occupancy tax revenue, including funds earmarked for beach nourishment, to pay for dredging the Oregon Inlet, according to the Outer Banks Voice.

About half of the 32 speakers at a county commissioners’ meeting favored using occupancy tax funds for dredging, saying the county’s boating and fishing interests were taking a huge economic hit because of severe shoaling at the inlet.

The other half objected to reallocating any funds without a plan to replace the lost revenue.

“If you look around this room, it’s pretty easy to distinguish the two sides,” Jim Tobin said. “All you have to do is look for neckties.”

Tobin, who supported the bill, said that users of Oregon Inlet also bring tourism revenue to the county from fishing tournaments and charter boat trips.

Two percent of the 6 percent occupancy tax is for beach nourishment. One percent funds the Dare County Tourism Board, and the rest goes to the towns and county for tourism-related spending.

The bill, which would allow the commissioners to use “some or all of the proceeds from occupancy taxes” toward the non-state share of dredging, is sponsored by Republican state Sens. Bill Cook, Harry Brown and Michael Lee.

The draft legislation comes at the same time that the county is planning beach nourishment projects in several areas.

Much of the funding for all of the efforts would come from the Dare County Shoreline Management fund, which is made up of the 2 percent share of the occupancy tax for beach nourishment.

Meanwhile, shoaling in the channel through Oregon Inlet is having a dire effect on the $100 million boatbuilding industry, forcing vessels to go 120 miles south for sea trials, said Paul Spencer, owner of Spencer Yachts.

“We’ve seen this coming for 40 years,” Spencer said. “It’s here now. The hourglass has run out. It’s time to take things in our own hands.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for keeping the inlet’s federal channel clear, but with declining federal funds, the state has been kicking in money to protect boats trying to navigate around the shoaling.

Millions are needed to maintain the channel. A $7 million effort to clear the channel to a depth of 14 feet and as much as 600 feet wide in 2013 was undone by shoaling within weeks.

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