By Mike Giles
Bald Head Island registered voters — all 125 of them — approved spending $18 million for a proposed terminal groin. Photo: Army Corps of Engineers
A funny thing happened last week when voters went to the polls to cast their ballot on the never-ending issue of beach erosion and how to pay for it. In the world of real estate, the mantra is “location, location, location” and that was clearly evident on two ballot issues to fund beach projects.
In Brunswick County, more than 60 percent of voters said no to a sales tax increase, which would fund beach projects — including terminal groins — and more than $100 million dollars in needed improvements to schools. One must wonder if schools would not be a priority for voters given the lean environment in Raleigh on funding for education programs. This proposed quarter-cent tax increase would have brought in approximately $3 million dollars per year, half for school funding and half for beach projects and terminal groins. Including funding for beach projects might have doomed that vote. Beach projects might be more important to residents living at the shore in erosion-prone areas than to a majority of Brunswick County residents who live inland and have other priorities.
In contrast, voters at Bald Head Island overwhelmingly supported a ballot issue that included $18 million dollars in bonds to fund the proposed terminal groin at the island’s south end next to the Cape Fear River shipping channel. Proponents of this project blame the Corps of Engineers dredging program for the increased erosion at the “point” and have spent more than $1.7 million dollars in a lawsuit faulting the Corps for erosion and loss. Add that chunk of change to the projected cost of building an ill-advised rock structure. One hundred and twenty-five Bald Head residents voted for this massive loan, but only 22 voted against it. This translates to about $150,000 per vote. Clearly, money does talk when you have plenty of it to throw at the sea.
In conclusion, the moral of this tale is: if you live on a rich, private island, you might be able to afford millions upon millions of dollars to battle Mother Nature and continue to battle her as the sea swallows your cash. In contrast, if you live anywhere else along our coast besides Bald Head Island and Figure Eight Island (another private island seeking a terminal groin), you might be searching harder and paying more to put sand on your beach or build a rock structure to fight the inevitable storms, sea level and dynamic nature of our coastline.