Some legislators are once again trying to expand the number of certain erosion-controlling structures allowed by law along the North Carolina coast. This time, they’re trying to do it through the state budget.
Republican budget negotiators confirmed Wednesday they’ve recommended a provision in the two-year spending plan that would eliminate a cap approved by legislators in 2011 that allowed up to four new coastal jetties. The proposed cap repeal is part of an agreement that also located more money for coastal dredging from a portion of the state gasoline tax.
The coastal jetties are yet another wrinkle added to the negotiations for the state budget, which was supposed to be finalized by July 1.
The jetties, typically made of rock, concrete or metal, collect sand and block currents that may otherwise cause erosion that could cut through coastline property and development. Opponents say they’re expensive and only shift erosion elsewhere.
No jetties have actually been completed since the 2011 law ended a 25-year ban on the structures. Four communities – Bald Head Island, Figure Eight Island, Ocean Isle Beach and Holden Beach – are at various stages in the regulatory process. The Bald Head project is now being built.
A pair of coastal legislators who back eliminating the cap say it’ll be up to top House and Senate leaders to decide whether the change stays in the final budget compromise that gets voted upon.
Rep. Pat McElraft, R-Carteret, a budget negotiator on environmental matters, said a new jetty could be needed to protect Oregon Inlet. The inlet was closed last spring to all but small recreational vessels because sand had made the channel too shallow.
Jetties are “safe if they’re engineered properly,” McElraft said, adding she’d be willing to accept a compromise of doubling the cap to eight. The permitting process for the four communities is “pretty strenuous,” said Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, co-chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He also supports lifting the cap.
Any opposition is likely to surface from House members who opposed a Senate bill in 2013 to repeal the cap. The state Sierra Club urged House leaders to work to eliminate the provision from the budget.
Without a jetty yet completed, “the impacts of a policy that would literally change the shape of our state are still unknown,” state club director Molly Diggins said in a release. She also criticized that a provision eliminating the cap was contained in neither the House nor Senate versions of the budget.
As for the rest of the budget, lawmakers have accelerated efforts over the past two weeks to work out a final plan. Three temporary spending measures have been passed, with the latest to expire Sept. 18. Brown and House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said they expected budget-writers would work in Raleigh during the long Labor Day weekend.
Budget-writers were still working out an agreement on teacher assistant funding, Brown said. Senate Republicans have offered to preserve teacher assistant funds that it had earlier wanted to reduce drastically, but House Republicans had problems with some details in the offer.
Brown said the chambers have tentatively agreed to higher Division of Motor Vehicle fees. The House budget recommended raising the fees by 30 percent, while the Senate proposed 20 percent increases. The compromise is more in line with the House proposal, according to Brown. He said tax-law writers were aiming to cut taxes by an amount equal to the additional fees generated.
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