THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 08, 2007
Federal inlet funds hit shoal
By PATRICIA SMITH
Jacksonville daily News
In a way, North Carolina is right where it was last year after President Bush released his proposed budget for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Wilmington District. The Bush administration spending plan for fiscal year 2008, released earlier this week, included no money for North Carolina beach nourishment projects and no money for dredging shallow draft inlets except New River Inlet.
"The funny thing is there's no surprise because we've got nothing again," said Carteret County Shore Protection Manager Greg "Rudi" Rudolph.
But in another way things are worse this year than the same time last year because Congress never passed a fiscal year 2007 budget for the Corps of Engineers, said Bill Keller, co-chairman of the N.C. Beach, Inlet and Waterway Association Inlet Subcommittee.
"By this time last year we knew where we stood," Keller said.
"Is no news good news?" he asked.
He hopes so.
Keller said local authorities are hoping Congress will pass a joint resolution authorizing the Corps of Engineers to spend at the 2006 fiscal year level of funding, although it is uncertain whether the agency will have the flexibility to shift money between projects as needed.
The 2006 fiscal year budget allocated limited funding to maintain all the shallow draft inlets in the state, except Bogue Inlet. The state and local governments contributed to get Bogue Inlet dredged and there is still money left from that, Keller said.
Right now all the inlets are navigable, but are beginning to show signs of shoaling, Keller said. Some will need dredging by spring.
The president's proposed budget for fiscal year 2008 includes $4.97 billion in new federal funding for the Corps of Engineers Civil Works program. Of that sum, a little more than $79 million is slated for projects in the Wilmington district, according to a Corps of Engineers press release.
Funding decisions were based on criteria that emphasized high return on investment and other factors such as safety, maintaining critical infrastructure, environmental benefits and ability to complete the project within the fiscal year, the press release stated.
The Bush Administration earmarked $500,000 for the upkeep of New River Inlet as a critical harbor of refuge.
Rudolph said he is sure New River Inlet was tabbed for funding because it is used by the military, but he questioned the agency's reasoning on some of the decisions.
"For beach nourishment the only state that had any money was really New York," Rudolph said. "Why did they get money? Will their projects have greater cost-benefit than others? I doubt it."
In past years Congress has been kinder than the president to North Carolina beach nourishment and dredging projects. Rudolph said he is not sure how the new Democratic-controlled Congress will react to the president's proposal.
"I think the Democrats want to show the Republican president that they're the ones that control the purse strings," Rudolph said.
On the other hand, Rudolph said he does not see a great deal more money being added for Corps of Engineers projects.
Other expenses included in the president's proposal were $554,000 for the Neuse River Basin Study; $4.9 million for maintenance of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway and $5.5 million for upkeep of the Morehead City Harbor.